5 Pill-Less Treatment Options For Chronic Pain

Chronic Pain Care Pill-LessOpioids and other pain medications can certainly help people cope with problems associated with chronic pain, but it should not be your only method of treating your pain. Pain pills are a passive treatment option that can be successful in controlling pain in the short term, but they lose their effectiveness and leave patients at risk for dependence and abuse in the long term. Today, we take a look at five pill-less treatment options for chronic pain that can be used on their own or in conjunction with other strategies to help keep your pain away.

Treating Pain Without Pills

We’ll offer a short blurb on five pill-less treatment strategies below. Click on the link in each article to learn more about each treatment option.

1. ExerciseExercise is one of the best treatment options for chronic pain. It helps get healthy oxygenated blood flowing to painful areas of our body, helps us keep off excess weight, and it helps off push away the stress in our daily lives. Even if it’s low-intensity workouts, regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for your body, especially if you have chronic pain.

2. Yoga, Tai Chi or Meditation – These techniques also help get blood flowing and strengthen areas of our bodies that are in pain, but they also are great for the mind. Most people don’t recognize just how mentally and emotionally draining physical chronic pain is, but these treatments can help you keep your mind healthy while you’re battling your physical pain. If you have a healthy mindset, you’ll find that the physical pain is often less debilitating.

3. Massage Therapy or Acupuncture – These two techniques are similar in that they focus on the pain pathways in our body. These techniques haven’t been emphatically proven to be effective, but some people have found relief with these options. They should be used in conjunction with other strategies because they too are passive techniques, but both massage therapy and acupuncture have been shown to be successful for some patients with chronic pain.

4. Physical Therapy – Sometimes our chronic pain is caused by an easily identifiable problem, like a pinched nerve or bulging disc. When the pain pathways can be clearly identified, physical therapy to strengthen the areas or free damaged nerves can be a great option. Ask your doctor about what stretches you can do as part of your physical therapy, or better yet, see if they’ll refer you to a physical therapist that can assist you in person.

5. Daith Piercing – If your chronic pain is in the form of constant headaches or migraines, the daith piercing may help provide relief if other options have continually failed. Our blog on daith piercings has been far and away our most popular blog, and while there is no direct evidence that the piercing can provide full relief, numerous commenters have tried the technique and noticed a reduction in headache symptom and prevalence.

Lessons From Prince On Chronic Pain

Prince Chronic Pain DeathThe death of Prince shocked the nation, a great artist lost to early, and his death has since been linked to opioids. Many celebrities have struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, but this story seems different. Prince did have a problem it appears with opioid addiction, as he died from an overdose most likely of fentanyl mixed in with oxycodone. He knew he had a problem, but for some reason he was slow to seek treatment, and help was just hours to late. The reason why this celebrity death is different is that Prince had chronic pain, and opioids were being used to help control symptoms.

Chronic pain is estimated to affect about 30 percent of the population in the United States as well as throughout the world. As a musician, Prince had apparently developed several injuries related to his work. He definitely had hip arthritis with deterioration of at least one of his joints. He may also have had other injuries, possibly pain related to repetitive stress on joints from hours of practice and playing multiple instruments. According to some reports, Prince would have definitely benefited from hip surgery and possibly a replacement. However he was a Jehovah’s Witness and this surgery was against his beliefs. Instead of taking care of it surgically, he chose other strategies.

Pain and the Pressure To Perform

Prince, like every other professional, felt the obligation to always be up and performing. Everyone wants to hide their suffering from others, and many people will go to any end to be able to look their best. For performers like Prince, either he showed up and gave a great show or he would probably no longer have a career. As far as his health, he made it a secondary priority. Chronic pain does not discriminate, and crosses all social, cultural and economic groups. No one gets special privileges, only you may be able to afford more treatments. Celebrities are also not immune from overdose, addiction, and certainly not death.

Chronic pain in Prince’s case was a result of hip joint destruction. As with all painful conditions, there are multiple ways to treat it.  The best way when it has become severe, and when the circumstances are similar to his, is surgical replacement. This usually solves the problem and mostly eliminates the pain while restoring near normal function. Unfortunately, personal religious convictions limited this option. Other good treatments would have been:

  • Exercise
  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Possible cognitive/behavioral therapies

Long-term opioids are not a good choice. The worst choice was self-medicating with opioids obtained illegally, since there is no way to know what they might contain. Chronic pain is not a sexy disease, and no one wants to be the poster child for such a disease. Maybe Prince will be the poster person. Unfortunately, he be a sobering reminder about the drawbacks of self-medication.

Chronic pain is extremely common, if you have pain, first start working with a primary care physician. If it is not responding to straight forward management, get a pain management specialist on the team to help find better solutions. Pain has many solutions, opioids are only one of many tools, and usually it is not one of the better ones, and it is generally extremely poor for long-term use. If medications are part of pain treatment, then one provider and one pharmacy is needed, and street drugs are off limits. Further, the primary prescriber needs to be screening all patients for abuse since it is difficult to determine who will be an abuser of medications. Lastly, if one does become addicted to medication, then it is time to get over embarrassment and get treatment so you do not end up overdosing.

Chronic pain is a difficult problem, it occurs in a third of the population in general. If you have pain, get good advice and obtain knowledgeable medical treatment.

Cloudy With a Chance of Chronic Pain

Chronic Pain Rain MinnesotaNew research from across the pond shines some light on the correlation between some weather patterns and expression of chronic pain.

For their study, researchers conducted a study called the Cloudy Project that involved more than 9,000 patients with chronic pain. Each day, patients would track their levels of daily pain through a smartphone app. When pain levels were entered, the app also recorded the local weather at that date and time. Patients recorded their pain levels for a total of 18 months.

Pain and the Rain

After looking at the data, researchers uncovered a link between poor weather and greater expression of pain. As the cold winter months turned to spring and the sun was up longer and more often, researchers noticed that pain levels dropped and severe pain was experienced far less frequently. They also noticed that pain levels spiked again during a rainy stretch in June. Researchers said there certainly is a correlation between chronic pain expression and the weather, but they want to conduct future studies to better understand why this correlation exists.

“Once the link is proven, people will have the confidence to plan their activities in accordance with the weather,” said Will Dixon, a professor of digital epidemiology at Manchester’s School of Biological Sciences. “In addition, understanding how weather influences pain will allow medical researchers to explore new pain interventions and treatments.”

Dixon called for individuals with chronic pain to reach out to the Cloudy Project about the chance to participate in future studies and help medical researchers better understand the mechanisms behind chronic pain.

“To work out the details of how weather influences pain, we need as many people as possible to participate in the study and track their symptoms on their smartphone,” Dixon said. “If you are affected by chronic pain, this is your chance to take do something personally — and easily — to lead to a breakthrough in our understanding of pain.”

The Dangers of Mixing Pain Medication

Pill Mixing Minnesota painThe Food and Drug Administration came out with a new warning this week, stating that mixing drugs that are opioids and either benzodiazepines or barbituates (anti-anxiety) can be especially dangerous and may result in coma or death. The recognition of the dangers of mixing these two classes of drugs is becoming increasingly evident. Both types of drugs – opioids and anti-anxiety drugs – have addictive natures. The use of these drugs is additive, and both can suppress the respiratory drive. When used together, one could easily “pass out” and stop breathing.

The FDA is ordering that some 400 products now carry a “black box warning.” This is one of the most severe categories of risk, indicating that these products have serious health risks and are potentially fatal. The products of concern are anxiety medications such as Valium (diazepam), Ativan (lorezepam), Xanax (alprazolam), Klonipin (clonazepam), Restoril (temazepam), Soma (carisoprodol), and phenobarbital. All these drugs make one relax and often fall asleep. Drugs in this class are also used as part of anesthesia to control anxiety during procedures. All these medications can decrease the ability to breathe. However, in a medical setting, they can be reversed with an IV medication flumazenil, but they can not be easily reversed often when taken orally or outside of medical settings. These are the same type of medications that are part of the cocktail used for putting a person to death with drugs for the death penalty.

Why Mixing Medications Is Dangerous

Opioid addiction and abuse has been a major problem, becoming worse over the last ten years. Death rates have skyrocketed and now are about 30,000 people each year in the US, putting it in the same range as the number of people killed in motor vehicle accidents. A person can die just from overdosing on an opioid. The illegal use of narcotics makes death especially easy since the dose of drug is often uncontrolled. Prince died due to such an illegal mixture of oxycodone and fentanyl. The only good thing is that the drug naloxone (Narcan) can reverse most opioids rapidly and prevent death. Examination of those dying from opioid overdoses has found a disturbing trend that many of those people have had both opioids and benzodiazepines in their bodies. Furthermore, just giving naloxone may not rescue an overdose victim.

Patients with chronic pain are often dependent on medications to control symptoms. When pain is not well managed, and there is no successful treatment, many doctors resort to the use of opioid medications. For select patients, these drugs may be very helpful to manage symptoms. With chronic pain, the brain also tends to show changes, and the central receptors for painful sensations become overly active. These regions in the brain are right next to the same regions responsible for depression and anxiety. Patients with chronic pain often develop depression and anxiety, possibly related to the fact that the centers in the brain involved in pain and anxiety are next to each other. Treating chronic pain patients who have anxiety with both opioids and benzodiazepines now has become especially dangerous, and potentially fatal.

The bottom line for chronic pain patients is that if you have pain and anxiety, do not mix opioids and anxiety medications. If as a patient, opioids are felt to be necessary, try to find an alternative treatment. Long-term management with opioids for pain is often unsuccessful, and using other options may be more beneficial. Anxiety is a form of depression. If you also have pain, do not use an anxiety drug. Instead, work with a professional to treat the symptoms and the depression. There are many anti-depressant medications that may help along with working with a psychology management team.

The mixing of medications when one has pain can be highly dangerous. A good pain provider will want to know all the medications a patient is taking such that they can reduce the risks of serious interactions.

Yoga And Acupuncture May Ease Chronic Pain Symptoms

Yoga Chronic Pain MinnesotaNew research published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings suggests that activities like yoga, Tai Chi and other complementary health approaches may help alleviate discomfort associated with some types of chronic pain.

Lead author Richard L. Nahin, Ph.D., of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), suggested that activity options like Tai Chi and yoga may help prevent symptoms from chronic pain, especially when paired with other treatment options like regular exercise, a healthy diet and certain pain medications.

“For many Americans who suffer from chronic pain, medications may not completely relieve pain and can produce unwanted side effects,” said Nahin. “As a result, many people may turn to non-drug approaches to help manage their pain.”

Chronic Pain, Yoga and Tai Chi

For their study, researchers identified 150 randomized, controlled U.S. clinical trials conducted over the past 50 years that examined non-drug approaches to chronic pain. Specifically, the research targeted five common sources of pain, which were:

The treatment techniques analyzed were considered effective if patients reported that it led to improvements in pain severity and pain-related disability/function. After looking at the data, researchers found that both yoga and acupuncture were safe and effective for chronic back pain, while Tai Chi and acupuncture may be most beneficial for patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. Massage therapy was also somewhat beneficial for patients suffering from neck pain when it was managed with one-hour sessions 2-3 times per week.

“These data can equip providers and patients with the information they need to have informed conversations regarding nondrug approaches for treatment of specific pain conditions,” said David Shurtleff, Ph.D., deputy director of NCCIH. “It’s important that continued research explores how these approaches actually work and whether these findings apply broadly in diverse clinical settings and patient populations.”

At the end of the day, the study paints an interesting picture at some non-drug techniques that can be used in conjunction with other lifestyle interventions to provide relief. Simply getting massages or doing some yoga isn’t going to fully rid you of your pain, but it can play an important role in a total pain management plan. There is no magic pill to cure many of the above conditions, but with a multifaceted approach that involves treatment with a physical medicine pain specialist, relief can be found.