Sometimes the pain that accompanies the creaking and aching in our bodies is just too much to bear. It can persist for so long that it becomes chronic pain. We need relief. For many, that has come in the form of opioid prescription medication like OxyContin, fentanyl, morphine and Vicodin. While legal, opioids are in the same class of drugs as heroin. States are now trying to control the widespread use of prescription medications. What are chronic pain sufferers to do? A range of treatments exists, from holistic to prescription. It's a matter of taking a smart approach and finding what works.
Opioids are widely used for pain management today, so much so that they have become a danger for some. Paul Christo is a leading board-certified pain specialist, board member of the American Academy of Integrative Pain Management and author of the book "Aches and Gains: A Comprehensive Guide to Overcoming Your Pain." He notes: "Primary care providers and pain specialists prescribed opioids for chronic pain in good faith. For 20 years, it was the treatment of choice. Now we have an epidemic and deaths from opioids are at an all-time high." Opioids reduce the number of pain signals received by the brain from the body, and they are effective, but if not used carefully, they can come at a cost.
Individual states have created guidelines for medicated pain management, which are designed to reduce the use of and dependence on opioids for first-time users. Long-term users may have experienced dependency or decreased effectiveness in the prescribed dosage. Some of these patients are turning to unregulated, illegal street drugs to help with their pain. Christo recommends that doctors carefully wean these patients off opioids and help replace their pain management with nonaddictive medications, nerve blocks and other holistic treatments.
Opioid therapy is just one option for pain management, and one that Dr. Christo reserves for a minority of his patients after a careful assessment of risks, benefits and medical necessity. He says: "There are numerous non-opioid, integrative and innovative approaches to managing chronic pain, including injections, NSAIDS like ibuprofen, nerve blocks, pain pumps and spinal cord stimulation; in addition to alternative treatments such as exercises, VR immersion, art therapy, aromatherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy." Spinal cord stimulation may be effective for lower-back pain, for example, and peripheral nerve stimulation uses electrical stimulation to target single pain-causing nerves.
The Mayo Clinic reports that a growing number of adults are turning to complementary and alternative medicine, or CAM, techniques to deal with their pain. These include relaxation and meditation, simple stretching exercises, massages, Pilates, dietary supplements and herbal remedies. Yoga is one of the most popular alternative medicine therapies. It has also been suggested that dietary changes might help alleviate pain symptoms; some foods to avoid include milk and dairy, fried and processed foods, and gluten. According to the Mayo Clinic website, "some CAM practitioners believe an invisible energy force flows through your body, and when this energy flow is blocked or unbalanced, you can become sick." They use therapies such as qi gong, healing touch and reiki to unblock and rebalance the energy. Any of these techniques can be used individually or combined with mainstream medical therapies.
Christo stresses the need for communication and partnership with a general practitioner. Patients should explain their ailments in detail including what limitations are being caused by the pain, both physically and emotionally. They should also be prepared to describe the qualities of their pain (burning, stabbing, dull, achy), when and how the pain started, changes in the pain since its onset, medications or therapy they have used and what effect they had. "Patients should never ignore chronic pain," says Christo. "If the patient is not finding sufficient relief in a reasonable time they should ask for referral to a pain management doctor." That amount of time can vary based on the effect the unresolved pain has on the patient's quality of life and abilities. For more advice, listen to his award-winning national Sirius XM radio show, "Aches & Gains."
No one should be confined to the perpetual suffering and limits their chronic pain places on them. Take action today to discover ways you can work toward a more pain-free life.