FARMINGTON >> Chronic pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined, according to the American Academy of Pain Medicine.
Because it is often incorrectly treated, chronic pain can also lead to prescription drug abuse, accidental poisoning and a sense of hopelessness and even depression for those who endure it. While chiropractic treatment can sometimes offer relief for pain sufferers, it's often temporary and requires additional treatments.
For the past several years, a local chiropractor has been offering an alternative form of pain treatment called myofascial release, which focuses on identifying and releasing trigger points in muscles to relieve patients' pain.
"The technique was started by a medical doctor, Janet Travell, who suffered from chronic pain, herself," said Rick Edwards, owner and operator of Myofascial Healing Arts in Farmington. "One day, she leaned up against something hard, and, although it really hurt, after constant pressure, the pain was released."
Travell began researching the effects of pressure on muscles and discovered that if enough pressure is placed on trigger points within a particular muscle, spasms causing pain will let go, alleviating the pain, Edwards said. Unlike traditional chiropractic treatments, which often focus on adjusting bones and joints, myofascial release concerns itself strictly with muscles.
"Every muscle has this reflex mechanism, and what I do actually fires the reflex to make the trigger point release. It tells the muscle to let go," Edwards said. "I don't have to dig deep to find it, and, once it's released, the pain goes away within one to two seconds."
Edwards is a licensed chiropractor and had practices in Aztec and Bloomfield until 2005. He later trained in Denver, Colo., on myofascial release techniques before returning to San Juan County and opening his Farmington practice.
He says he is one of the only chiropractors in New Mexico specializing solely in myofascial release techniques. He said he decided to make myofascial release his specialty because it is the most effective pain relieving method he has found and because it has a permanent, lasting effect.
"It was so frustrating before (with traditional chiropractic methods) because I'd see the same people over and over again. But now I can quickly get people 70 percent or more improved, and most stay that way without needing further care," he said.
Most of Edwards' patients have been grappling with chronic pain for at least five years, he said. The number of visits needed to achieve the muscle release that alleviates pain depends on each patient, and, because the treatment involves identifying where the trigger point in the muscle is, some initial pain is involved. Those who have been through the treatment, however, say enduring that momentary pain to achieve a pain-free life is worth it.
Sherry Cole, 59, was diagnosed in 2010 with fibromyalgia, which is characterized by all-over body aches and a heightened response to sensation and pain. She endured years of pain, fatigue and "brain fog."
She said that after her diagnosis, physicians didn't give her many options to manage her pain, other than to prescribe medications and tell her to watch her diet. But that didn't make a difference in the amount of pain she was experiencing, so Cole decided to see if Edwards could help. After undergoing treatments three times a week for several months, she reports that her pain has been greatly reduced.
"(Edwards) sits and talks to you and wants to know what's going on with your body and your pain," she said. "If he can't help you, he'll tell you that. Suffering from chronic pain can make you miserable, and I really believe the treatments have made my life better."
Lloyd Scott, 74, suffered from debilitating back pain since a combat-related injury while serving with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam in 1967. After unproductive visits with doctors and chiropractors over the years, the pain got worse, and by the time he made the appointment to see Edwards last November, he found himself unable to walk at times.
The myofascial release treatments brought an almost instantaneous reduction in Scott's pain, he said.
"After the first treatment, I had 80 percent relief," he said. "After the second one, it was like I had virtually no pain at all, and I'd say I'm now 90 percent improved. I had been on some strong pain killers before, and now I may occasionally take two aspirin."
Edwards credits the intrinsic ability of patients to help heal themselves -- in addition to the myofascial release technique -- with the results he has seen.
"I believe the only thing healers do is allow people to tap into their own healing power," he said.