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Over prescribing prescription painkillers, such as Oxycontin, Hydrocodone, Percocet and any other number of other opioid medications created an epidemic of addiction and overdoses that communities across the nation continue to battle.
While health care experts and legislators search for a solution to the issue, others are focusing on ways to manage different types of pain without the use of prescription painkillers.
A recent study reported that 60 percent of opioid overdose deaths involved people that suffered from chronic pain. A staggering 13,000 lives were lost to overdose over just a six-year period researchers discovered.
There are Two Types of Pain: Chronic and Acute
Acute Pain is specific, appears suddenly from an injury, a surgery or even from environmental factors like allergy headaches from pollen-laced air. Acute pain may linger for a time, but it dissipates relatively quickly.
Chronic Pain, however, can be lifelong and physically debilitating. Brought on by a disease like cancer or a violent car-crash, a back injury or persistent migraines, chronic pain is not only physically taxing, but is a well known cause of mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression. That makes chronic pain doubly challenging to cope with.
No matter what kind of pain or how it came on, it’s understandable why people seek the most powerful painkillers available, even to the point of misusing medications or drugs and alcohol. Opioids and self-medication are risky though. Both can lead to dependence or addiction.
10 Pain Management Alternatives to Prescription Painkillers
1. Corticosteroids (steroids)
According to a study by the National Institutes of Health, steroids like prednisone or cortisone are effective, in concert with other types of treatment, for relieving pain and inflammation.
While these are sometimes only available by prescription and there can be some uncomfortable side effects, addiction and overdose, are not likely when treated by a physician.
2. Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs or NSAIDs are over the counter pain medications such ibuprofen and aspirin, and they’re considered a safe alternative to opioids.
These drugs are preferable, especially in cases of acute pain, because there’s no evidence that they’re habit forming.
Most people are quite familiar with acetaminophen by the brand name Tylenol.
Evidence suggests that acetaminophen isn’t as effective in treating inflammatory issues, such as back or knee pain, but is effective in treating headaches, with the added benefit of not upsetting the stomach, which some NSAIDs are known to do.
4. Physical Therapy
Often overlooked, physical therapy is a productive method for strengthening the body under the guidance of a trained therapist.
Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy (ESWT) is a recent non-invasive method for treating and healing pain without surgery or medication that is gaining popularity with sports medicine doctors and therapists.
Overcoming injury and learning techniques to avoid certain physical conditions can lead to a speedier recovery.
It might seem antithetical for a person to exercise if they’re in pain, but research has shown that regular exercise releases natural opiates – endorphins – that can significantly reduce pain.
Consistent exercise has also been linked to a person’s mental perception of pain, meaning what might’ve hurt before hurts less after a lifestyle change.
6. Chiropractic Treatment
According to Harvard Medical School, chiropractic treatment is an approach that focuses on the spine and the body’s alignment.
However, chiropractors have begun ergonomic education for their patients, teaching them how to sit, stand, walk and limit their strain caused by routine, daily activities.
The National Institutes of Health reports that acupuncture has shown to be effective for treating chronic low-back pain, neck pain, osteoarthritis, migraines and other ailments.
While researchers aren’t entirely sure why acupuncture works, one benefit is that there are relatively few complications from this treatment.
At first blush, the meditation approach to pain management might feel a bit “new-agey,” but the research backs it up.
The mind is able to alter a person’s physical experience, which is why some athletes can play with serious injuries or some combat soldiers don’t notice they’re wounded until after a firefight.
Researchers believe meditation is an effective tool because it alters a person’s perception of their pain.
In a similar fashion to meditation, studies have shown yoga reduces pain perception and one study found that yoga practiced once a week increased mobility better than regular medical care for 313 people with chronic low back pain in the study.
These areas of the brain are also related to the sensitivity a person has regarding pain.
10. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
The mind is a powerful tool and with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, people are able to identify their pain, talk about its effects on their lives with a counselor and create a strategy for managing the discomfort.
CBT is especially effective when combined with many of the above approaches to dealing with pain.
It goes without saying that every person is different and the way we deal with pain is unique to each individual. Treating pain without the use of opioid prescription painkillers isn’t always simple, but it can be effective.
It’s important, though, to find a strategy that works for you and, if possible, to consult a physician or psychologist trained in these approaches.