Seeking alternative solutions for chronic pain in today’s world

By Caroline Bohn, R.N., Senior Care Manager, Magellan Behavioral Health of Pennsylvania

Millions of Americans suffer with chronic pain issues, every day of their lives. Conditions such as migraines, back injuries, fibromyalgia, or neuropathy, for example, can cause serious, ongoing pain. Ongoing chronic pain can be a debilitating problem for those suffering with it. Dealing with a chronic pain issue can lead to additional problems, such as a loss of pleasure in life, inability to work, poor sleep or depression. People often seek treatment for chronic pain, to be able to live a better life.

We live in a fast-paced world where we can access just about anything, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We can shop and order things on the internet at any time of the day or night, or even go to stores that are open 24/7. No longer must we wait for someone to get home and check an answering machine to receive our messages because we can reach out to others in an instant via cell phones, email, texting, and instant messaging. Going to the movie theatre or buying a DVD in the store are almost obsolete. The limitless availability of television and internet streaming services allow us to watch our favorite shows and movies at any time. The ability to get so many needs met instantly, leads us to expect this type of immediate fix for everything in our lives, including medical issues.

It is understandable that people desire immediate relief from pain, and there are many ways in which pain can be treated successfully and alleviated. One option, which people often choose, is the use of prescription pain medication. But the natural desire to relieve pain immediately can cause people to opt for taking pain medication before trying less invasive alternatives. There are many options for treating chronic pain without prescription medication. For example, interventions such as physical or occupational therapy, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), acupuncture, biofeedback, or cold laser therapy. Wearing supportive braces or orthotics can be helpful with eliminating pressure on inflamed areas. Yoga, weight loss, and therapeutic massage can aide in reducing muscle and joint pain. Mind-body techniques are also effective methods to address pain, such as meditation, mindfulness, progressive muscle relaxation, and deep breathing exercises. To clarify, the use of prescription pain medication is not an inappropriate choice, but it is wise to explore other options as well. Pain itself, is not a disease. Pain is a symptom or signal used to alert us that something is going wrong within the body. Use of medications to eliminate the pain signal, is not helping fix the problem that is causing the pain. The first step to solving a pain issue is to identify and address what is causing the pain so you do not have to experience pain in the first place. There are situations where it is not possible to eliminate the source of the pain completely, but in cases like these, there could be treatments available to lessen the severity of the pain, so it is manageable with less medication or without the use of medication at all.

Regular use of prescription medication to alleviate pain could cause other issues to arise, even when a medication is appropriately prescribed by a physician and taken according to the physician’s orders. Unfortunately, it is possible for your body to become dependent on certain types of prescription pain medication. Dependence on pain medication is evident when an individual experiences symptoms of withdrawal when taking less of the medication or stopping it altogether. If a person feels they must continue taking pain medication to avoid experiencing withdrawal when not taking it, this could indicate that their body has become dependent on it. If this occurs, a consultation with your physician to discuss next steps is essential.

There are different classes, or types, of pain medications which can be prescribed by your physician. One of these types, called opioids, has a greater risk for dependence than other types of prescription pain medication. If your body becomes dependent on opioid pain medication, it can be difficult to stop taking it. Opioid pain medications have a higher risk for causing withdrawal symptoms when discontinued than other types of pain medication. People could experience nausea, vomiting, sweating, feeling excessively hot or cold, or muscle aches throughout their body, when taking less of or stopping the opioid pain medication. If this were to happen, alerting your physician is crucial. Your physician can assist you with safely discontinuing an opioid pain medication, so you do not have any withdrawal symptoms. If you do not feel comfortable telling your physician you may be dependent on opioid pain medication, there are other ways to seek help. If you have access to the internet, you can visit the SAMHSA website (https://www.samhsa.gov/find-treatment) to get education and information about seeking help with opioid pain medication dependence. If you do not have access to the internet, SAMHSA offer a toll-free helpline as well (SAMHSA’s National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

There is nothing wrong with seeking help when your health is at stake. Reaching out to a trusted family member or friend, to ask for their help, is also a great way to start on the road to your recovery. Above all, it is important to remember that maintaining your physical health and well-being, is crucial to living your best life.

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