There are millions of Americans suffering from some form of debilitating pain every day. In fact, statistics show that 30 percent of Americans suffer from acute or chronic pain at some point in their life. Dealing with and managing pain is debilitating, and it can affect everyone, no matter their age or their profession. From chronic headaches to car accidents to sports injuries or recovering from surgeries, nearly everyone has dealt with some level of pain at some time or another.Every year, millions of people seek help for their pain, whether it's relief through drugs or some way to manage their pain psychologically. Oftentimes, opioids are prescribed to these people by well-meaning doctors and physicians. And while opioids can be effective in treating acute pain, they’re also highly addictive, debilitating and can cause far more harm than good in the long run.
The Negative Effects of Opioids
Prescription opioids are effective at treating pain, but they aren’t without serious side effects. Moreover, these types of drugs were never intended to be used for chronic or long-term pain relief—they’re most effective when used occasionally and only under severe circumstances.Opioids block pain signals in your brain by binding to opioid receptors. However, in doing so, opioids also block these same receptors from controlling important aspects of your bodily functions. In doing so, they produce a laundry list of side effects:
- Mood disorders
- Respiratory instability
- Sleep apnea
- Vomiting and nausea
- Allergic reactions
- Dangerous interactions with other drugs
And of course, they’re dangerously dependent. Your body very quickly counters the strong effects of opioids and soon needs the drug to maintain chemical balance. Not only does this create physical dependence on the drug, but it makes it so that your body needs more and more of it over time to receive the same level of pain relief. Eventually, chronic users of opioids find that they plan and organize their day around their medication schedule, and they quickly lose control of their life, freedom and independence. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way, and there are numerous treatments available that are just as effective as opioids for relieving and managing pain.
Alternatives to Opioids
- Over-the-Counter Medications: While there are plenty of over-the-counter medications that can help relieve pain, such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen and aspirin, oftentimes these medications are inadequate for intense or chronic pain. That said, many people that need help managing their pain find relief in non-drug therapies. These therapies combined with over-the-counter medications can work wonders for pain management without the detrimental side effects that opioids inflict.
- Physical Therapy: Physical therapy can provide people experiencing pain a way to heal and rehabilitate through an exercise regime that helps to improve your body’s natural functioning and, in turn, decrease pain.
- Injections: Injections with local anesthetics or other medications can help you manage pain from nerve damage or muscle spasms.
- Massage: Massage and other relaxations therapies can help train you to control your body’s involuntary functions and can provide benefits in pain management.
- Acupuncture: Typically thought of as a holistic treatment, acupuncture has been shown to provide pain relief in some patients by interrupting pain signals to the brain.
- Surgery: If other pain management alternatives have not worked, surgery may be a safe, effective way to correct abnormalities in your body's joint or muscles.
Using Technology for Pain Management
For many, even the benefits of physical therapy won’t help in managing their pain. Thankfully, there are technological advancements that are being made that can help ease the pain. In some cases, these high-tech methods can provide permanent relief from pain:
- Radiofrequency Ablation: Radiofrequency ablation, or RFA, is a minimally invasive technique where the nerve responsible for a specific pain area is burned with an electrical current created by radio waves. The electrical current is transmitted by a needle that’s inserted in the area that the nerve resides in. Radiofrequency ablation can provide relief for up to a year.
- Nerve Blocks: Nerve blocks can be injected into your body using X-ray imaging. These blocks work by injecting numbing medication into the local area where the nerve responsible for pain resides. Nerve blocks can eliminate or dampen chronic pain and, in some cases, prevent it from developing.
- Transcutaneous Nerve Stimulation: This treatment provides short-term pain relief, especially for those experiencing muscle spasms and aches. It works by sending low voltage electric signals to the pained area through skin pads.
- Spinal Cord Stimulation: When other treatments fail to relieve pain, spinal cord stimulation may be an option. This type of treatment works by using a device similar to a pacemaker that replaced the pain with something much more tolerable. The device is implanted into the patient’s lower back, which is then attached to small wires in the spinal canal. When the patient feels pain, they use a remote to send signals to the pained area. New forms of this treatment show promising results in the treatment of back pain and neuropathy associated with diabetes.
- Pain Pumps: Certain kinds of pumps can be implanted to give a patient the ability to use a remote to deliver localized pain medication to the spinal cord or other areas. This type of treatment also provides psychological improvements as it gives the patient direct control over their pain.
The Bottom Line
There are numerous alternatives to opioids that are just as effective at relieving and managing pain, whether it’s temporary or ongoing. Regardless of your needs, if your doctor has prescribed you opioid medication, talk to them about potential alternatives as well as the side effects of continued opioid use. It could very well save your life.If you’ve been taking opioids for pain and you’ve found that you’ve become dependent on them, know that help is available. Contact The Last Resort Recovery to speak to one of our addiction specialists. We can help you get the treatment you need to break the cycle and recover from opioid addiction.