Science & Spirit: Acupressure, Cannabis and Scorpions for Pain Relief (eek!)
Chronic pain—that’s pain that lingers for at least 12 weeks or longer—afflicts about 20 percent of the American public. Managing that pain emotionally and physically isn’t easy, and is the focus of intense scientific study. For the latest news in pain management, read on.
DIY Acupressure for Back Pain
Acupressure is similar to acupuncture in that it involves meridians, but it does not involve needles. Instead, pressure is applied using a finger, thumb or a device like a spiky roller. A study published in the journal Pain Medicine found that this method can be self-administered effectively for reducing pain and fatigue associated with lower back pain. In the study, 67 back-pain sufferers were either trained in using acupressure, or simply continued their regular treatment without acupressure. The acupressure groups spent about a half hour a day using the technique for six weeks, and at the end, found they had more pain improvement than the control group. “Although larger studies are needed, acupressure may be a useful pain management strategy given that it is low risk, low cost, and easy to administer,” wrote the study’s lead author, Susan Murphy, an associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Michigan. (Check out this video for relieving back pain using a tennis ball.)
Cannabis Flower for Pain
As more and more states legalize cannabis for medical purposes, evidence mounts that the plant can significantly alleviate pain. A new study from the University of New Mexico used data from Releaf App—software that educates patients on cannabis products, subspecies, and how to use it. The UNM researchers found that the average Releaf App user was reporting at least a three-point drop in pain, as self-assessed on a 1-10 scale. The study also found that the best analgesic response came from people using the whole dried cannabis flower—also called “buds.”
While cannabis can be addictive, the researchers say it is a better choice than opioid. “Chronic opioid use is associated with poorer quality of life, social isolation, lower immune functioning and early morbidity,” wrote Jacob Miguel Vigil, one of the lead investigators of the study. “In contrast, my own ongoing research increasingly suggests that cannabis use is associated with a reversal of each of these potential outcomes.”
Scorpions and the Link to Chronic Pain
Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco are exploring how a newly discovered scorpion toxin may someday be incorporated in ways to treat chronic pain and inflammation. That’s because the toxin, which they have named WaTx, can pass directly through cell membranes and into a cell’s interior.
“This is unusual for peptide toxins,” wrote researcher John Lin King in the journal Cell. “But it’s also exciting because if you understand how these peptides get across the membrane, you might be able to use them to carry things—drugs, for example—into the cell that can’t normally get across membranes.” He explained that “the discovery of this toxin provides scientists with a new tool that can be used to probe the molecular mechanisms of pain, in particular, to selectively probe the processes that lead to pain hypersensitivity.”
If you experience daily pain, check out our “Mindfulness Meditation for Chronic Pain.”