By Joe Fleming
If your Raynaud’s symptoms are simply not abated by traditional measures, at some point the topic of calcium channel blockers is bound to come up in conversation with your doctor. The first line in drug treatment for Raynaud’s phenomenon, calcium channel blockers like Nifedipine, alter the way calcium passes into certain muscle cells, reducing electrical signaling and causing blood vessels to dilate.
For some Raynaud’s sufferers, these types of drugs may lessen the frequency or severity of attacks. For others, however, calcium channel blockers may not be an option as they can have serious side effects like low blood pressure, slowed heart rate, and lightheadedness. And still others may also want to avoid taking prescription drugs if there are potentially medicine-free alternatives available which can provide relief.
If you are in the latter group and looking for alternative pain remedies. don’t miss this quick list:
(Editor’s note: While these options may offer circulation-boosting potential, they are not clinically proven to successfully reduce Raynaud’s symptoms.)
Overall, yoga stretches muscles and increases blood flow to certain parts of the body. Since the hands feature prominently in almost every pose, yoga is wonderful for promoting blood circulation to the fingers, an issue which is at the heart of Raynaud’s Phenomenon for many sufferers. The stretches also help restore full range of motion while strengthening the fingers.
Yoga has some positive chemical effects as well, mostly with regard to reduced cortisol levels. Relaxed bodies are less stressed, which is why they produce fewer stress hormones, and stress can trigger Raynaud’s attacks. Many researchers, including the ones in the study cited above, have targeted cortisol as a substance to avoid, especially among people who suffer from chronic pain.
This non-contact Chinese martial art has similar benefits. Like yoga, it combines movement with deep breathing to tone muscles and relax the body. Yoga is mostly a stretch-and-hold exercise, and that works wonders for many people. But if you try yoga for pain relief and experience some results, albeit not dramatic ones, tai chi may be worth a try.
The fluid movement and breath control involved in tai chi often offers many therapeutic benefits. Research has documented that fibromyalgia patients experienced positive results in just twelve weeks of bi-weekly classes. Tai chi also refocuses the mind. Instead of thinking about the discomfort in your fingers or toes, you think about the poses and the movements. This mental benefit is related to the next item on the list.
Researchers have long theorized that there is a connection between how we think and how we feel. But until recently, evidence on this subject has been lacking, possibly due to concerns that doctors and pundits do not dismiss physical pain as psychosomatic. In the mind, pain creates pain, thanks to hyperalgesia, a condition in which patients become incredibly sensitive to even slight discomfort. Distraction, which could be as simple as engaging in a TV show, helps to break this cycle because it takes the mind away from pain and focuses it onto something else.
Non-Thermal Laser Treatments
For people who develop Raynaud’s secondary to a main primary ailment like scleroderma, frequent and prolonged Raynaud’s spasms can actually result in necrotic lesions, or ulcers, that develop on places like the fingers and toes. These are caused by an inadequate supply of oxygenated blood to the extremities and can lead to cell and tissue death if not healed properly. Painful finger (digital) ulcers form typically at the tip of the finger, but can spread under the nail and up to the joints, increasing the risk for infection.
Some anecdotal evidence is shedding light on the potential efficacy of cold laser therapy (non-thermal laser therapy) in healing digital ulcers. The belief is that the low-level laser energy targeted towards tissue damaged by Raynaud’s flare-ups can stimulate healthy cell regeneration and reverse the existing damage. This process could help prevent pain along with future inflammation, ulcers, and prevent the extreme result of amputation.
Foremost as a tool to combat stress, promote better sleep, and ease muscle tension, massage may indirectly but positively help boost circulation to help combat painful Raynaud’s symptoms, or at least aid in day-to-day management of the condition. In addition, massage targeted to trigger points, like the hands and feet, can improve blood flow and stimulate the body’s natural defenses.
Massage during or between Raynaud’s attacks may be worth considering for relief. Make sure whoever is doing it has warmed their hands first and that there you have no tissue damage, cuts, or open sores which may be aggravated by the contact.
The concept of biofeedback is fairly astounding – you can train your brain to take control of what would normally be an automatic bodily function, essentially making it “voluntary” and more manageable. When it comes to living with Raynaud’s, it may be possible to train your body to better control the constriction and dilation of blood vessels. (Note: Clinical trials of biofeedback techniques to combat Raynaud’s symptoms did not prove significantly effective in patients studied, but some primary sufferers may still find relief.)
At least 20 sessions completed with the proper machinery (electronic biofeedback instruments), a certified biofeedback therapist, plus a firm practice commitment from the patient, is required for this method of mind-body training.
Jury’s Still Out
Additional alternatives in treating Raynaud’s Phenomenon include compression stockings and TENS (Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) therapy. Since Raynaud’s symptoms involve circulatory responses, the potential benefits of compression gloves and socks have been debated. Some experts say additional compression may further constrict already narrowed blood vessels, while others suggest that compression forces the body to better circulate blood through deeper and narrower channels.
Like compression garments, the idea of TENS therapy for Raynaud’s hasn’t reached a scientific consensus either. However, a small 1982 trial published in the European Heart Journal did show potentially promising evidence that low-frequency electrical nerve stimulation could improve peripheral vasodilation. TENS therapy is commonly used to manage muscle spasms, and more research continues to be conducted on the effectiveness of this therapy in improving blood flow in extremities like the feet.
Nontraditional physical and mental activities can provide effective pain relief for many people, even those who have chronic conditions. If you are unable to pursue or are simply avoiding pharmaceutical avenues towards the management of your Raynaud’s symptoms, alternative therapies may be a solution worth considering.
Joe Fleming is the President at ViveHealth.com. Interested in all things related to living a healthy lifestyle, he enjoys sharing and expressing his passion through writing. Working to motivate others and defeat aging stereotypes, Joe uses his writing to help all people overcome the obstacles of life. Covering topics that range from physical health, wellness, and aging all the way to social, news, and inspirational pieces…the goal is help others “rebel against age”.