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I have been a Registered Nurse for over forty years. I’ve treated thousands of people who suffer from chronic pain. Most people feel that they have no choice other than using pharmaceuticals, including powerful opioid narcotics, to manage their pain. This is simply not true. There are better, safer alternatives to opioids for chronic pain available right now.
Take my patient Anna, for instance. Anna was involved in a car wreck years ago. She became dependent on opioids for pain relief. The narcotics failed to treat her chronic pain effectively. In desperation, she tried low-level laser therapy even though she was skeptical. Anna got immediate pain relief at her first painless, non-invasive treatment session. She now is able to swim for 2 hours each day, rarely has discomfort, and travels the world. When Anna has rare, minimal pain, she simply schedules a treatment. Anna does this about 3 or 4 our times per year. By the way, Anna is over seventy years of age.
Opioids are commonly prescribed to treat chronic pain. While they can be effective, chronic use of narcotics can be harmful or deadly. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control, (CDC) “In 2014, almost 2 million Americans abused or were dependent on prescription opioids.” The CDC determined that approximately one fourth of individuals who take prescription opioids for non-cancer diagnoses were addicted to the drugs. Opioids are powerful drugs which have serious side effects. Opioids may impair thinking, cause gastrointestinal distress, and are poorly tolerated by many individuals.
If you are living with chronic pain, side effects of opioids, including mental dullness and fatigue may make it difficult or impossible for you to work, drive, or operate equipment. Your relationships may suffer. “Today, nearly half of all U.S. opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid. In 2015, more than 15,000 people died from overdoses involving prescription opioids”.
Even if you have been using narcotic medications without experiencing serious side effects, it is best to consider alternatives. Opioids block pain messages. They do nothing to remove the source of your pain. Other pain relieving measures are safer and can actually correct many underlying problems which cause pain. When the root of the problem is corrected, the health of the painful tissues is often restored. Your entire body and quality of life benefits.
Another reason that you may seek to limit or avoid narcotic use is the fact that while overprescribing of opiates is often in the news, many practitioners have become increasingly reluctant to order medications in doses, which effectively relieve pain. You may still suffer from moderate to severe pain which interferes with your regular activities and enjoyment of life even if you take opioid medications.
Opioids are not the only medications that can provide pain relief. Non-narcotic analgesic medications are available by prescription and over the counter. Non- steroidal anti-inflammatory agents, commonly referred to as NSAIDS, can sometimes be effective; however, a recent study found that NSAIDS were no better than placebo at treating pain of the spine.
Unfortunately, NSAIDS can have significant side effects. They may cause internal bleeding and gastrointestinal distress. If you have other health problems, you may not be able to use NSAIDS.
Other powerful medications are also prescribed for pain management. These include muscle relaxants, corticosteroids and antidepressants. All are fraught with side effects. These medications impact your entire body and stress your liver.
Fortunately, many effective, non- narcotic, safe pain-relieving treatments are available. Unlike pharmaceuticals, they are generally well tolerated. None are addicting, and some are free! Some provide rapid relief, while others produce effects slowly. Many of the treatments which take longer to produce results take time because they get to the root of the pain. Tissues take time to heal.
Pain is a complex condition. Even if pain is felt in only one location, it impacts your entire body. Your energy level, sleep, concentration, sex life, and mood are just a few of the areas of your life which pain impacts. Because pain is so complex it often responds best to the use of multiple modalities.
Please let your care providers know about all interventions which you are employing to treat your pain. If you are attempting to decrease your use of prescription medications, do so only under the supervision of a qualified medical provider.
Alternatives to pharmaceuticals include manual therapies and mind-body approaches. Diet, rest, exercise, and lifestyle modifications can provide lasting relief when employed consistently. New treatment modalities use lasers, and other technologies to produce relief of pain.
Herbal medications have effectively treated pain for millennia. Some provide rapid relief. Others work by relieving underlying imbalances and other causes of pain. Some herbs work directly on the nerves, while others relieve inflammation. Herbs are used to provide nourishment and heal tissues.
In addition to being a Registered Nurse, I am also a Registered Herbalist. I recommend using willow bark herb as a natural alternative to Aspirin. It is one of the original sources of aspirin. Willow bark is effective yet free from many of the side effects which aspirin produces.
In 2014 Canadian researchers conducted a clinical trial and found that spearmint tea reduced pain and disability among individuals suffering from arthritis. These are just a couple of the vast array of herbs, which effectively treat chronic pain.While you can implement herbal therapies independently, I recommend that you seek the assistance of a qualified herbal practitioner if using herbal medication to treat chronic pain.
Skilled physical therapists employ several techniques which facilitate healing, improve joint mobility, strengthen tissues, and enhance the health of your entire body. While you may think of physical therapy as a series of exercises, physical therapists have tools and techniques which offer you many solutions to help you become comfortable and enhance your energy levels.
For example, you may work with a physical therapist so that you can learn techniques, which allow you to lift at work with less pain. The therapist may employ the use of ultrasonic treatments or application of hot or cold packs.
The therapist may recommend a transcutaneous electronic nerve stimulator (TENS) to interrupt the pathways of pain messages before they reach your brain. Physical therapists are experts at recommending practical solutions which you can employ to make your life easier so that pain is prevented. They may order splints or other protective equipment if needed.
Occupational therapists may make recommendations which reduce pain of small joints, such as those of the hands. Vocational therapists can suggest modifications for your home and workplace which can reduce wear and tear on your body, conserve your energy, and alleviate pain.
Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years to relieve pain. You may obtain pain relief even immediately. Often multiple sessions are ordered for maximum effectiveness. Acupressure, massage, reflexology, moxibustion, and other hands on treatments can relieve pain too.
A wide range of alternative therapies that you may not be familiar with are available too. My patient Anna, whose story I began this piece with, effectively discontinued the use of opiates by using low-level laser treatments. She schedules sessions every few months. The treatments take just a few minutes, are non-invasive and pain free.
As you can see, opiates and other pharmaceuticals can relieve pain however they are not without risk. It’s time to get to the root of your pain so that you can finally get lasting relief. We have discussed just a few of the many successful modalities which can be employed. Mediation, weight loss, yoga, and advanced natural therapies, such as prolotherapy and specific massage techniques are beneficial. Healing from pain is a journey. Fortunately, we live at a time when many options that lead to lasting pain relief and better health are available to you.