In 2017, prescriptions for opioids dropped 12 percent. This is believed to be the most dramatic drop in opioid prescriptions in nearly a quarter century. Additionally, more doctors are exploring alternatives to powerful pain medications because of the risks that come with even short-term use of such painkillers. This is definitely good news given the fact that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers opiate abuse and misuse an epidemic. But what if you happen to be one of the estimated 100 million Americans living with chronic pain? Fortunately, there are several non-opioid alternatives that may be just as effective at easing discomfort.
1. Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
As the name suggests, the purpose of NSAIDs is to reduce the inflammation around tissues that can cause joints to be painful or nerves to be irritated. While NSAIDs like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen rank right up there with opioids as one of the most used sources of pain management in the world, there are some risks associated with these medications, namely stomach-related issues. For this reason, long-term reliance on NSAIDs isn’t recommended.
Tylenol is the brand most commonly associated with acetaminophen. It can be effective on certain types of pain and safer for some patients since it’s not linked with the potential for gastrointestinal or heart-related problems associated with NSAIDs. Not great for inflammation, acetaminophen tends to work better for muscle aches. Overdosing increases the risk of liver damage.
3. Corticosteroid Injections
One way to avoid the potential side effects of oral steroids is with injections directly into the affected area. This is a short-term pain management option that’s often recommended for patients with spine-related pain caused by nerve irritation or inflammation in a specific area. The purpose of corticosteroid injections is to provide enough relief to allow for active participation in physical therapy.
4. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
With cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), you change the way you think about your pain. More precisely, you become aware of your negative thinking and you substitute your not-so-helpful thoughts and actions with positive ones. For some patients, this means learning stress and relaxation techniques. Chronic pain may also be managed effectively with related therapies that include:
- Psychotherapy (talk therapy)
- Behavioral therapy to reinforce positive changes
- EMDR (eye movement desensitization restructuring) to help you verbalize your pain
- Art or music therapy to create a new emotional focus to minimize thoughts of pain
5. Chiropractic Care
Chiropractic care is based on the belief that many imbalances within the body are due to misalignment and joint dysfunctions within the spine that can affect the nervous system. If you’re dealing with chronic pain, a chiropractor typically uses a combination of manual manipulation applied to abnormal vertebrae, special tools, and mobilization that involves gently stretching muscles and joints. Such techniques are designed to improve circulation and encourage the natural healing process within your body.
Pain medication of any kind does not address the actual source of your symptoms. This is why it’s best to get an accurate diagnosis of the likely source of your discomfort. Doing so can increase your odds of experiencing meaningful relief with non-opioid pain management options. Making positive lifestyle changes with diet and exercise can also be beneficial. Exercise, in particular, promotes the release of endorphins. These are chemicals produced by the pituitary gland and nervous system that have effects similar to mild pain-relievers.