As the Battle on Opioids Heats Up, Alternative Pain Treatments Gain Attention

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It seems the issue with opioids is, in part, a case of the pendulum swinging too far in one direction. This refers to the origin of the opioid problem when the medical community decided that chronic pain was not being sufficiently addressed. They began to take liberal advantage of prescribing opioids. And because these medications have such addictive properties, that made them a risk for the scourge we are now experiencing.

Opioid addiction: can it get any worse before it gets better?

The numbers tell the astounding story of this problem. Drug overdose deaths in 2016 most likely exceeded 59,000, a 19 percent increase over 2015, and the largest increase ever recorded in the United States, according to preliminary data compiled by The New York Times. This just adds to the shocking total of almost two million Americans who abuse or are addicted to opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It seems this is partly a case of the pendulum swinging too far in one direction. This refers to the origin of the opioid problem when the medical community decided that chronic pain was not being sufficiently addressed. They began to take liberal advantage of prescribing opioids. And because these medications have such addictive properties, that made them a risk for the scourge we are now experiencing.

However, the crisis has by necessity also brought to the forefront alternatives for pain management. There are, in fact, a variety of effective, non-addictive treatments for pain. These are referred to as alternative therapies. They are particularly relevant and often useful for chronic pain. According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, chronic pain impacts millions of Americans every year, and yet painkilling drugs like opioids only help about 58 percent of them.

Alternative therapies are those used in place of conventional medicine. However, they can also be used in conjunction with traditional treatments, making them part of what is called complementary medicine. In the past several years, largely spurred by the opioid crises, many of these therapies have become increasingly relied upon. They include such areas as chiropractic, massage, and acupuncture, as well as others, such as mind-body treatments.

As always when introducing treatment, therapy or activity, it is recommended you check with your doctor before undertaking any of these suggestions, including vitamins and supplements.

Chiropractic

Chiropractic is widely indicated as a treatment for chronic pain. Chiropractors will work collaboratively with other providers, such as family physicians to ensure complementary care. The most well-known chiropractic treatment is spinal manipulation. This and other techniques are focused on conditions such as:

While the basis of chiropractic is spinal manipulation, a wide variety of other treatments are also part of chiropractic care. These include manual or manipulative therapies, ultrasound and laser therapies, posture and ergonomic training (strategies such as proper walking, sitting, standing) and even nutritional consultation.

Massage Therapy

Massage therapy releases serotonin, an anti-pain “feel good” brain chemical. A review of studies has shown it is effective in relieving pain from syndromes which cause back, headache, shoulder and neck pains. Studies link massage to the relief of fibromyalgia and arthritis pain, and also note that massage reduces anxiety and depression. Some of the conditions associated with chronic-pain relief from massage include:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Headaches
  • Low back pain
  • Cancer-related pain (from radiation and chemotherapy)
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is recognized by the World Health Organization as a helpful treatment for more than 30 diseases and conditions, one of its main purposes being pain relief. Acupuncture points are located near the nerves that release endorphins into the body. Among others, acupuncture is purported to address the following conditions:

  • Headache
  • Low back pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Myofascial pain

Other alternative treatments for chronic pain include:

Exercise-Physical exercise is good for muscle strength and flexibility; mood enhancement and energy boost.

Yoga-Yoga offers relaxation benefits and is known to help back and neck pain, arthritis and fibromyalgia.

Meditation– In clinical trials, mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce chronic pain by 57 percent.

Relaxation techniques– These techniques calm the mind, relax the muscles and reduce stress hormones in the blood.

Hypnosis– Hypnosis is used to alter thoughts, feelings, behavior or physiological state, all of which can mitigate chronic pain.

Biofeedback-Biofeedback harnesses the power of the mind to gain body awareness and more control over one’s health.

Vitamins and supplements– Supplements such as fish oil and glucosamine and chondroitin are indicated to reduce swelling and inflammation. Vitamins D and C and E join a list of other recommendations.

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