Managing Pain With Out Prescription Drugs
For sufferers, chronic pain can be debilitating. Whether that chronic discomfort comes in the form of back pain, neck pain, a head ache or something else, it can have a serious negative impact on your quality of life. It can also interfere with work. In the worst cases, chronic pain can result in job loss. And, while family and friends are often sympathetic, they may not fully understand.
You can treat chronic pain conditions with a variety of medical therapies such as opioids and muscle relaxers, but medical therapies generally carry side effects. Even those that are relatively safe may carry side effects when taken for an extended period of time.
Sometimes the best treatments are alternatives to standard medical treatment. They do not involve drugs that carry the possibility of side effects. This can reduce the risks for using these treatments long term and make them a better option. Here are some chronic pain conditions and some of the medical and alternative treatment options available for dealing with chronic pain.
Chronic Pain Conditions
Chronic pain affects approximately 100 million Americans. That is more Americans than suffer from diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer combined. 20% of Americans report a difficulty sleeping as the result of pain. The costs to the American people in terms of treatment, lost wages and lost productivity were estimated to be between $560 billion to $635 billion in 2010. Here are some of the three most common types of chronic pain reported.
Headaches- Everyone has headaches now and again. Chronic headaches, however, are characterized by a frequency of at least two a week or 15 a month for a period of three months or more. Approximately 45 million Americans suffer from chronic headaches, with twice as many women suffering than men. While the causes for chronic headaches are not well understood some possible causes can include stress, inflammation, injury or even a brain tumor. If the headache is a migraine, other symptoms may include nausea and light sensitivity.
Back Pain- 80% of adults suffer from back pain at some point in their lives. It is one of the leading reasons for job-related disability claims and is a major contributor to missed work days. Most back pain is short-term. It is considered chronic when it has persisted for 12 weeks or more-- even after the perceived underlying causes have been treated. Roughly 20% of people who suffer from back pain will develop chronic back pain.
Neck Pain- Chronic neck pain is neck pain that persists for longer than three months. It is generally believed to be initially precipitated by an injury. 15% of people who report suffering from chronic pain, suffer from chronic neck pain. Like all chronic pain, chronic neck pain prevents the sufferer from being able to function fully.
Current Medical Treatment Methods for Chronic Pain
The medical profession has developed a number of ways for treating chronic pain from injections to pills. Here are some of the most commonly used types of treatment.
NSAIDs and Acetaminophen- NSAID stands for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and include medications such as ibuprofen which can generally be purchased over the counter. Acetaminophen is also a medication that can be purchased over the counter. These are popular for an acute or short-term pain. Be careful not to take more than 4000mg of acetaminophen in 24 hours as serious side effects may occur.
Tricyclic Antidepressants- Tricyclic antidepressants have been found useful in treating pain when taken at lower doses than are used to treat depression. To be effective these medications must be taken every day whether pain is present or not.
Anti-Seizure- Anti-seizure medications can be helpful with burning or shooting nerve pain. Like tricyclic antidepressants, in order to be effective, they must be taken every day whether pain is present or not.
Opioids- When used properly these can be good for treating certain types of pain such as post-surgical pain and pain associated with cancer treatment. It has been shown to be less effective on nerve pain.
Muscle Relaxers- Muscle relaxers are generally only prescribed for short-term use due to the likelihood of forming a dependence. They can be effective in treating lower back pain, muscle tension and mobility.
Injections of Nerve Block- There are several different types of nerve block that can be employed. Most involve injecting a numbing or blocking agent or a steroid to reduce inflammation at or near the area of the pain.
Possible Side Effects of Common Treatments for Chronic Pain
While many medications offer varying levels of effectiveness for treating pain, for every medication there are possible side effects. Those side effects can occur because of misuse, overdose or a personal biological intolerance. Here are some of the possible side effects of the most common treatments for chronic pain.
NSAIDs and Acetaminophen- While these drugs are fine for short-term use, taken over an extended period of time they can result in disastrous consequences. Negative effects may include harm to the kidneys, blood clotting and digestive problems. Also, because some opioid medications contain acetaminophen, over-the-counter medications should not be taken with prescription drugs to avoid overdose.
Tricyclic Antidepressants- Side effects may include blurred vision, nausea, dry mouth, changes in weight, low blood pressure, rash, increased heart rate and sexual dysfunction. This medication may increase the risk of seizure for people who experience seizures.
Anti-seizure -People taking anti-seizure medications may experience weight gain, drowsiness and dry mouth. Anyone with a history of kidney stones, kidney disease or glaucoma may not be able to take these medications.
Opioids- The most common side effects of opioid use are constipation and drowsiness. Physical dependence can occur when taken regularly over a long period of time. Addiction can occur as the result of physical dependence. More recently, the overprescription of opioids has become a major concern.
Muscle Relaxers- Possible side effects of muscle relaxant use includes dry mouth, drowsiness or dizziness and urinary retention. Most notably, however, is the possibility of forming a dependence if used in appropriately or over an extended period of time.
Injections of Nerve Blocks- Most common side effects include pain or numbness at the injection site. Some may include facial drooping or difficulty swallowing.
Alternative Treatment Methods
Over the past couple of decades there has been a growing interest in alternative mind-body therapies for treating chronic pain. While many medications offer some benefits, when you take into account the possible side effects, it's no wonder. As sufferers look for ways to avoid harmful potential side effects of accepted medical therapies, there have been more people willing to try traditional medicines and alternative treatments. While medical research into these therapies is limited, there have been enough people reporting relief to keep interest in alternative therapies alive. Here are a few of the most popular therapies people are trying to manage their chronic pain.
Acupuncture- Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese therapy. It has been gaining ground in the treatment of chronic pain such as back pain, neck pain and knee pain. Many people also swear by it for treating migraines. It involves stimulating certain points on the body by inserting thin needles into the skin. When performed by a well-trained specialist with clean needles, this therapy is generally considered safe.
Diet and Exercise- Hypocrites famously said, “Let thy food be thy medicine and let thy medicine be thy food.” Nearly everything we eat either contributes to inflammation or reduces it. Processed foods, excess fats, sugars and salt all contribute to inflammation. Whole plant foods tend to decrease it. Choosing a diet such as the Mediterranean diet, can go a long way toward reducing inflammation.
Similarly, exercise has also been shown to be useful in the management of chronic pain. Having an exercise program can help you to stay flexible and manage pain better. You should not begin an exercise regime without professional guidance. Some exercises that are popular for those who suffer from chronic pain include low impact work outs like swimming, yoga and walking.
Chiropractor- 22 million Americans visit chiropractors every year, many of whom are seeking assistance with pain. Chiropractors provide care that allows the body to function properly. They use gentle spinal adjustments to reduce stress related interference with the nervous system, thus allowing the body to resume normal function and, in effect, heal itself. Chiropractic care has been shown to be a safe and effective in treatment for many types of pain.
Massage- Receiving a minimum massage of one hour a week has been shown to improve functionality in people suffering from chronic pain. It helps to relieve stress and reduce pain. Studies showed massage therapy to be more effective on back pain than on neck or shoulder pain or headache. It is considered a safe therapy.
Meditation/ Relaxation- There are several things that fall into this category. They include meditation, relaxation techniques, autogenic training, hypnosis and self-hypnosis. They all center around retraining your brain to relax and deal better with not only stress but pain-- especially as stress has been shown to intensify one's experience of pain. These therapies are recommended to be used in conjunction with other treatments and not on their own.
Low Level Laser Therapy- This type of therapy has only been used in the United States since 2002 although it has been used in Europe and Asia much longer. In one U.S. trial, people who were given low level laser therapy were 70% more likely to report a reduction in chronic pain than those who received a placebo treatment. Where high powered lasers are used in medicine to cut or destroy tissue, low level lasers (cold lasers) are believed to stimulate cell function and relieve pain.
TENS therapy- TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. It involves using a device about the size of a pocket radio with two electrodes and attaching those electrodes to your skin. They are placed at the location of the pain or at a pressure point where they create an electrical circuit that sends current through your nerve fibers. People often experience less pain at this time. Effective settings for this device are best determined by a doctor, physical therapist or acupuncturist. Once a professional has instructed the patient in how to use the device, patients can often manage treatment themselves. TENS treatment should always only be initiated with the assistance of a medical professional. When done properly, this treatment is considered safe.
Chronic pain can be debilitating. It can hamper one's ability to work, get a decent night's sleep and just to function in general. The most widely accepted medical treatments involve administering powerful drugs to patients, all of which-- even the most safe-- carry some risk of side effects. Risk of negative effects increases with long-term use of medications. Patients who wish to manage pain with out the constant threat of side effects, risking dependance, addiction or overdose have been increasingly seeking out alternative treatments and traditional remedies that they hope or have reason to believe will have less risk of side effects.