There always seems to be somebody looking to take advantage of the desperate and the vulnerable. Sadly, it seems that can include those suffering chronic pain. I was contacted a few days ago by a gentleman suffering from CRPS, whom I’ll refer to as Mike. He is happy for me to share his story.
Following an accident at work four years ago, he was diagnosed with CRPS in his foot and lower leg. As is not unusual, there was some considerable delay before his condition was correctly diagnosed. Thereafter, he tried the usual panoply of drugs and other non-invasive treatments before undergoing nerve blocks and eventually a course of pain management. Nothing helped and ultimately he was all but cast adrift by his local pain service.
Despite the best explanations of the doctors, Mike just couldn’t understand why he wasn’t recovering from what for most people would have been a fairly short term injury. In his own words, “I just couldn’t get my head around it. Surely if it’s causing pain, and certainly this much pain, then something has to be wrong and something must have been missed. I thought there must be someone who can do something.”
A friend recommended to him a local homeopathic practitioner. Homeopathy is very controversial. Certainly there are those that swear by its efficacy, but numerous scientific studies have concluded that it is no more effective than a placebo.
Recent research led by Professor Edzard Ernst of Exeter University studied the use of arnica, a popular homeopathic remedy for bruising, pain and swelling, in three groups of patients who were having carpel tunnel surgery to their wrists. The first group were given a high dose of arnica, the second group a (homeopathic) low dose and the third group a placebo. The results showed no significant difference at all between each group in terms of bruising, pain or swelling.
In Mike’s case, he was “prescribed” arnica by the homeopathic practitioner, which had no identifiable effect. The practitioner told him he must persevere, which he did for some weeks before giving up, again utterly dispirited.
Mike said, “I felt really conned. I’ve now found out there’s no evidence that homeopathy can help with CRPS but [the practitioner] took my money anyway. Looking back on it, I doubt she’d even heard of it before!”
Other alternative therapies
Mike is not the only person suffering chronic pain I have spoken to who, out of desperation, has been drawn into alternative therapies by unsubstantiated claims. I have come across clients who have tried therapies as diverse as Reiki, Reflexology, Aromatherapy and, dare I say most bizarrely, Crystal Therapy!
It could be said that we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss alternative therapies particularly, as in Mike’s case, where mainstream medicine had also failed to help. The difference though is that for most mainstream treatments there is at least a proven scientific basis and rationale for them and they have all been shown to be helpful to some if not all patients.
I do believe that a number of alternative therapies may well have a role to play in helping chronic pain sufferers, not necessarily from a placeboic perspective, but in terms of helping in the relief of the anxiety and stress that inevitably results from unremitting, debilitating pain. However, to that extent it is important that they are presented as complimentary and not as the magic cure.