The conventional medical system has little to offer people in chronic pain apart from prescription painkillers. Chronic pain is defined as pain that has persisted for more than 6 months. Research studies show that opioid drugs such as morphine and codeine are not very effective for treating chronic pain. At best, they can help you reduce chronic pain by providing about 25 % relief. In addition, these drugs are known to have a high risk of overdose as well as addiction. In the US, 15,000 people die each year of opioid overdose. In 2012, it was estimated that 2.1 million people in the US were addicted to opioid prescription drugs.
If opioids are not the answer for relieving chronic pain, what are the alternatives?
There are many things you can do to manage chronic pain without having to rely exclusively on prescription opioids. Here are my top 5 suggestions.
- Reduce stress. Stress increases your sensitivity to pain. Learning how to relax reduces tension and directs your attention to other things that you can control. Some things you can do to reduce stress are meditation, deep breathing, listening to music, massage, and progressive muscle relaxation.
- Keep active. Know what your limits are, but keep moving. If you can, work your way up to walking 30 minutes per day 5 days per week. Exercise maintains flexibility, balance, and strength, releases endorphins (your body’s natural painkillers), prevents re-injury, and prevents heart disease, weight gain, and diabetes. Yoga is an excellent exercise that elevates mood, increases functionality, and reduces pain. Strength training is particularly beneficial for people who have chronic back pain and arthritis.
- Maintain a positive attitude. Dwelling on the negative will only make you feel worse. If you’re depressed or anxious because of your pain, talk to a counsellor, who can help you change your attitude toward your situation.
- Seek support. Isolation will make you feel worse. Knowing that there are other people who understand what you’re going through will help you stay positive and motivated. Join or start a support group.
- Eat a healthy diet. Eating foods that don’t agree with you can cause inflammation, which can lead to or exacerbate chronic pain. Eating healthy foods will not only reduce inflammation but also prevent chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes and maintain a healthy weight, which will reduce or prevent arthritis.
Whichever approach you choose, remember that pain is a very individual experience and some things will work better for you than others. Find out what works best for you by trying different things. The best approach is a combination of different things.
If none of these approaches works well enough to improve your quality of life, visit a naturopathic doctor for supplements and acupuncture treatments. Many studies show that acupuncture is a very effective method of reducing and managing chronic pain.