Opioid use is at an all-time high, and pain is at the root of the problem. In 2016, approximately 20% of Americans suffered from chronic pain. Doctors often prescribe powerful opioids on an ongoing basis to provide a basic quality of life. People recovering from an injury or surgery are often prescribed opioids as well. If you find yourself in serious or chronic pain, you might be wondering if opioids are your only option. It’s common to feel concern for several reasons:
- You have previously been addicted to substances, which may or may not include opioids
- You’re worried about the abuse potential that comes with opioids
- You’re wondering whether there’s a more effective, long-term solution for treating pain
Taking opioids for pain can be risky and dangerous. The opioid epidemic in the U.S. continues to worsen. Even those with the best of intentions can fall victim to its grasp. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, between 21 and 29 percent of those prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them. Addiction can escalate from there: around 80 percent of people who use heroin started off abusing prescription opioids. In 2017, 47,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose. In addition to the risk of addiction and abuse, opioids come with many unpleasant side effects. Some of them result only from long-term use of opioids. They include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Respiratory depression
- Hormone dysfunction
- Muscle rigidity
What Are My Other Options?
Avoiding opioids for pain doesn’t mean you have to suffer. There are plenty of safe and effective methods for controlling pain. Take a look at a few alternatives to opioids and decide if any may be a good fit for you.
1. Over-the-Counter and Prescription Medications
There are many non-opioid medications available for pain. These include ibuprofen (Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol), aspirin (Bayer) and steroids. Many find that these medications work just as well as opioids for short-term pain relief. You should note that medications like these can cause kidney, heart, or liver damage if taken for long periods of time.
2. Physical Therapy
The CDC recommends physical therapy as an excellent and long-lasting solution for chronic pain. Aerobic, aquatic and resistance exercises have been shown to help osteoarthritis, chronic back pain, and fibromyalgia. A licensed physical therapist will work to understand the severity of your pain and prescribe an individualized exercise plan. Treatments may also include whirlpool treatment and deep-muscle massages.
3. Trigger Point Injections or Nerve Blocks
Trigger point injections are used to alleviate knots of sore muscles that will not relax on their own. Injections are made up of a local anesthetic with or without steroids. When the doctor administers the injection, the trigger point deactivates, and pain is alleviated. This treatment can provide lasting relief from pain related to fibromyalgia and tension headaches. Nerve blockers are another type of injection used for managing pain. They treat painful groups of nerves called a plexus or ganglion by directing nerve-numbing medication into certain areas of the body. They’re commonly used to treat neck, back, shoulder, abdominal and facial pain.
4. Psychological Treatment
Pain and mental health conditions can influence each other. For example, if you’re in severe and persistent pain, you’re more likely to be depressed. If you are depressed, your pain is likely to worsen due to physiological stress. In fact, stress has been found to have a powerful impact on pain. Psychological treatments like cognitive-behavioral therapy, mindfulness, and biofeedback help reduce chronic stress.
Acupuncture is now widely accepted, though researchers are still not clear exactly how and why it works. Practitioners insert small needles into acupoint throughout the body to relieve pain. Many acupoints are close to nerves. The related muscle in turn sends messages to the central nervous system, which causes the release of endorphins to ease pain. Acupuncture is effective for different types of pain, including headaches, fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, and osteoarthritis.
6. Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)
This treatment uses electrical stimulation to decrease pain. Doctors send low-voltage electrical signals to the affected area through electrodes attached to the skin. Researchers aren’t exactly sure how it works. It’s thought that the electricity stimulates nerves, send signals to the brain, and block pain signals. It may also stimulate the release of endorphins, which also help to ease pain. TENS only works on a short-term basis but may be effective for diabetic neuropathy. Living with a pain condition can be disabling. However, the relief that opioids offer can come at a high cost. Now that you’re aware of some of the pharmacological and non-pharmacological options for treating pain without opioids, you can make a more informed decision about how to manage your pain. If you’re currently addicted or at-risk for opioid addiction, consider seeking treatment at a caring and compassionate facility like Washburn House. Contact us today to learn about our various treatment programs and which may be best for you.