Monday Medical: Alternatives to narcotics for pain |

Monday Medical: Alternatives to narcotics for pain

Rosie Kern / For the Steamboat Today

Pain is our body's way of telling us that something is wrong. We've all experienced physical pain at some point in our lives, perhaps from a sports injury, childbirth or a migraine headache.

As reported in the Monday Medical column April 2, many Steamboat Springs physicians are concerned that more patients are requesting narcotic painkillers to alleviate their pain. This problem is not unique to our region; statistics reveal that the United States population consumes 80 percent of the narcotics prescribed in the world.

Pain can be classified as acute or chronic. Acute pain begins suddenly. It is usually sharp and may be the result of a broken bone, burn or a cut. Chronic pain is ongoing.

Some examples of chronic pain include headaches, arthritis, joint pain or cancer pain. Chronic pain also may include psychological components such as anxiety or depression.

"Chronic pain is not dangerous, but it does need to be managed," said Dr. Cliff Gronseth, a Boulder-based physiatrist who sees patients in Steamboat Springs. Gronseth specializes in nonsurgical treatment of orthopedic and neurological problems.

"The goal in managing chronic pain is function," he added. "If medication allows an individual to be more functional, it is a reasonable treatment option. However, for some, medications may not be the only crutch you can stand on to manage chronic pain. There are other tools."

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Some of those other tools include complementary and alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, massage, yoga and counseling. These mind-body healing services are at the core of Yampa Valley Integrated Health at Yampa Valley Medical Center.

Director Angela Silvernail-Melzer, who holds a master's degree in social work, said many Integrated Health patients suffering from chronic pain have achieved positive results using alternative therapies.

In a recent study, 36 YVMC inpatients suffering from chronic pain received counseling services or acupuncture or massage treatments for 15 to 30 minutes. The patients were all on pain medications. After their treatments, there was an average of a 20 percent decrease in pain symptoms.

"It is important to treat pain by addressing the mind-body connection," Silvernail-Melzer said. "We need to acknowledge the power of the brain and its management of the body. Individuals can have tremendous healing power when they use their minds.

"There is good research to show how the stress response and other brain stressors and psychological barriers play into chronic pain," she added. "Alternative therapies such as yoga, qigong, Pilates, physical therapy, chiropractic work or massage can be utilized to enhance overall health."

YVMC offers many alternative therapies through Integrated Health including counseling, acupuncture, herbal therapy, massage, nutritional support and private yoga and qigong sessions.

Licensed acupuncturist Kelley McDaneld said many patients come to Integrated Health complaining of lower back pain.

"Acupuncture can facilitate tissue healing by promoting blood flow to the affected area," McDaneld said. "It also stimulates the release of endorphins, which are the body's natural pain-killers."

Another resource at YVMC is the Pain Management Clinic. Dr. Brian Siegel, who is board-certified pain-management specialist, directs the program, which is individualized and dedicated to education. Services include medical management, injections and other treatment modalities.

"We try to help the patient understand why they hurt and what we can do about it," Siegel said. "I explain procedures and give treatment options. Many times, I will refer patients to Integrated Health.

"We can't always cure pain, but we can have a positive effect on the indirect costs of pain. There is not one single therapy or technique that can treat all chronic pain," he said. "Often, it requires multiple interventions or a combination of treatments."

For more information, Integrated Health can be reached at 970-875-2731. The Pain Management Clinic can be reached at 970-871-2363.

Rosie Kern is the communications specialist at Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

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