More Americans deal with chronic pain than diabetes, cancer and heart disease. It affects 100 million Americans, with low back pain being the most common. With so many dealing with pain, we have to understand that the treatment they receive will affect more than just them.
Prescription opioids are one of the first tactics that are prescribed to patients to decrease their pain. The opioid slows your automatic functions, which includes your breathing and heart rate, which can result in lessening the pain. They can also reduce, or slow down the pain signals that are sent to your brain, which decreases the amount of pain that you feel.
Since the 1900s, most doctors would typically prescribe hydrocodone or oxycodone, even though there is little evidence that they help the patient. Patients tend to have a number of side effects from using the drug which includes, but is not limited to nausea, constipation, and feeling exhausted all the time. Typically when a patient is given these medications, they are also prescribed additional medicines in order to combat these side effects.
In conjunction with that, patients can build a tolerance for the drug, which results in the body becoming used to the drug and needing more to have the same effect it had before. They can go through withdrawal if they suddenly stop taking them, or if they are prescribed something else. If the drug is taken over an extended period of time, it can end up being misused, or patients can become dependent on it.
While many don’t plan on exploiting the pill, some do end up abusing the drug. More Americans died in 2016 from opioid overdose than car accidents. This is no longer a problem that can be ignored and instead we must begin to think of alternatives methods to treat those in pain.
The issue originates from the fact that many doctors will prescribe the medication to make the patient’s pain “go away.” Instead of having a real conversation with their patient about how to handle what they are feeling. Some pain will never go away no matter what they are given and instead, a discussion must be had on how to manage their chronic pain better.
While some may not realize it, acupuncture, and exercise, through a physical therapist, can both help treat the pain. Those enduring pain can also use Transcutaneous Electro-Nerve Stimulator pads. The pads are placed close to where the pain originates from, and they provide stimulation to reduce it.
Another treatment to consider could be nerve blocking procedures, these injections are typically done on an outpatient basis. Two of the more common injections are the epidural steroid injection and the facet joint injection.
The epidural steroid injection is done to help pain in the back and legs, or for neck and arm pain. It is done with an anti-inflammatory steroid, and the point of injection is done at the inflamed area typically in the lower back, mid back, or neck region.
The facet joint injection is meant to help increase movement in the spine for the neck and back. It is done under x-ray guidance and is used more as a diagnostic procedure. A longer lasting block will be used if there is a diminished amount of pain from this injection. The needle goes straight to the joint, and dye is used if a numbing agent is being used on the joint.
As a society, we have to come to understand that opioids aren’t the only solution to chronic pain. Prescription opioids don’t always work. The first step shouldn’t be to take opioids and instead alternative solutions should also be discussed.