With more than one-hundred Americans dying daily from opioid overdoses, there is mounting pressure on the medical community to find pain management alternatives to opioids. Members of the chronic pain management specialty have taken the lead in developing new therapies that offer similar pain mitigation benefits to opioids without the serious health risks.
Many of these opioid alternatives are unconventional, while others are quite familiar to most Americans. Some of the most effective pain relievers are probably found in your bathroom cabinet—over-the-counter drugs. Commonly available medications like ibuprofen (found in Advil or Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) have proven to be as or more effective in relieving pain symptoms as many prescription opioid pain killers. Although there are still some health risks associated with NSAID use, they are so powerful that some medical authorities are recommending their substitution even in acute pain situations like post-operative recovery.
One of the primary reasons that the opioid epidemic could kill half a million Americans over the next decade is that many physicians are too eager to prescribe opioids instead of recommending other therapies first. One opioid alternative that is widely recognized as very potent in treating many forms of chronic pain is physical therapy. Physical therapy uses strength and flexibility exercises as well as education and manual manipulation to target the source of the pain and secondary issues like muscle tension. A growing number of medical studies conclude that physical therapy is at least as effective as opioids in many chronic pain cases.
Another chronic pain therapy that you may have heard of but probably never considered is acupuncture. Many pain sufferers dismiss the idea of inserting tiny needles into precise locations on their body for pain relief as fringe medicine, but a growing segment of the medical community is endorsing this therapy. In 1996, the FDA approved acupuncture needles as medical devices, and since then, numerous medical studies have demonstrated that this therapy does work for pain patients. Although acupuncture offers pain relief for only a limited time, there was a 2012 report that it is effective for pain conditions including osteoarthritis, back pain and headaches.
Pain usually begins with an injury or illness, but once it becomes a chronic condition, it takes on a more complex nature. It is no longer merely a set of nerve impulses from damaged tissue, but it is often combined with emotions like stress and depression. The cognitive components of long-term pain produce secondary conditions like anxiety and insomnia that worsen the underlying pain condition.
That is why more pain management specialists are using behavioral therapies to mitigate pain. Not only are more physicians prescribing low-risk medications like antidepressants to treat emotional health issues, but they are also recommending therapies like biofeedback. Therapists work with patients to analyze how they respond to pain, e.g. if their stress levels rise, and offer coping strategies to respond in a healthier way that minimize the effects of pain. This is performed in concert with a medical team treating the physiological source of the pain.
Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care
M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.