Managing pain without drugs

Headlines warn of an epidemic of narcotic addiction in our country as physicians prescribe drugs for chronic pain. Is there an alternative? In fact, there is.

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Headlines warn of an epidemic of narcotic addiction in our country as physicians prescribe drugs for chronic pain. Is there an alternative? In fact, there is.

Qi gong is a form of exercise and meditation from China. Sometimes it has movement, sometimes meditation and sometimes both. There are many forms of qi gong. Tai qi, for instance, is a form of qi gong with movement.

The story goes that an emperor of China saw peasants in the rice field working without pain or arthritis and wondered how this was so. He learned they were doing exercises similar to qi gong that were passed down through generations. Most qi gong forms originated as martial arts, but lately, more emphasis has been placed on their medical benefits.

As a new doctor, I thought that medication and surgery could solve all medical problems, but there were some things they couldn’t treat sufficiently, including chronic pain and burnout. These are typically considered mind-body issues. In my search for treatments that could help, I learned acupuncture. I found, however, that I could not treat myself. Despite strenuous exercising, I developed age-related problems such as sleep issues, burnout and chronic aches. I turned to tai qi and that helped my flexibility and balance, but there seemed to be something missing. Around this time, I came across neiyang (inner nourishing) qi gong.

Neiyang gong is a medical qi gong that is beneficial for mind, body and spirit, for treatment and prevention. It works with Western medicine and also in cases where Western medicine is not the ideal solution. I participated in a local class and have been attending training at the China National Training Site for the past eight years.

The results have been eye-opening. While there, a Hilo retiree with severe back pain was treated with a combination of massage, acupuncture, herbs and qigong. He had been unresponsive to chiropractic and conventional Western medicine and was unable to walk for more than a few minutes at a time.

Within a few months, he was able to walk 18 holes of golf. Another example of the benefits of qigong is a physician who was burned out and unable to work for more than two years, despite getting the best care at a major academic medical center. After a few months, he was able to stop his medications and return to work full time.

Another Hilo retiree with compression fractures and arthritic ankles began using a wheelchair after a stroke and was in constant severe pain. He came for three, two-week visits to China. At the end of the first trip, he was able to use a walker and reduced his pain medications. At the end of the second visit, he was able to use a cane and almost got off all pain medications. At the end of the third visit, he was able to walk without a cane and occasionally stop taking his pain medications. Others found that their sleep issues, anxiety, chronic pain and joint pains were improved.

This is not magic. Chinese medicine is an accepted medical system just like Western medicine, but it is based on energy flow. For best results, you will need to commit to practicing regularly.

The people previously mentioned practiced daily and often did tai qi as well, but you need to practice correctly, just as with any other skill. Doing it incorrectly can tweak your back or your joints and create problems instead of healing them. You should train with certified teachers.

There are other forms of meditation which are very useful, including other qi gong forms, zen meditation and yoga. They all center on breathing and relaxation. Whatever practices you choose, learn them correctly and be consistent. For myself, I am able to concentrate better, sleep better, and have improved my patience. My golf game is less terrible, too (unfortunately, qi gong will not turn me into Kevin Hayashi).

One of the hopes I had when we started the East Hawaii Independent Physicians Association was that we could offer something such as neiyang gong as an alternative for things such as chronic pain, chronic fatigue, burnout and quality of life issues. EHI is offering reduced tuition in a neiyang gong class to teach patients how to care for themselves.

The class is taught by instructors certified by the National Training Site in China, and is open to medical professionals and patients. The participants in the first round of 10 classes expressed feeling more relaxed, with less pain and greater function.

Later this year, masters from the National Training Site will provide workshops in Hilo. For more information, call 961-6922 or link to hiqi4health.org.

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Dr. Richard Lee-Ching has been a family physician practicing in Hilo for more than 30 years. He was one of the founders of the East Hawaii Independent Physician’s Association and served as its president for 20 years.

This column was prepared by Community First, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization led by KTA’s Barry Taniguchi, and supported by a volunteer board of local community leaders. Community First was established in 2014 to help the community respond to the health care cost crisis and support initiatives that change health care from just treating disease to caring for health. To learn more about Community First visit CommunityFirstHawaii.org.

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