How To Manage Chronic Back Pain Without Opioids
If you’re one of the millions of Americans who suffer from chronic back pain, you know it’s a challenge. Chronic pain — defined as pain that lasts more than 12 weeks — can affect your ability to complete everyday tasks, exercise, sleep well and even hold a steady job.
Turning to opioids to relieve chronic pain is a dangerous option. Doctors are more aware than ever of the risks of dependency and accidental overdose, and opioids' association with anxiety, depression and other health issues.
A team approach to pain management
Research shows that treatment mixing medical, physical and cognitive behavioral approaches to pain management is more effective than relying on a single option.
- Doctors can help you find a non-opioid pain relief medication, injection or surgical option that works for you.
- Physical therapists (PTs) use various hands-on approaches to help you gain strength and correct your movements in ways that relieve or help you avoid pain.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy, also called talk therapy, helps with negative thinking that can prevent you from believing in your ability to improve.
Your doctor or pharmacist can offer you many non-opioid treatments for pain, such as:
- Prescription and over-the-counter topical pain-relieving creams and gels
- Prescription and over-the-counter aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), acetaminophen (Tylenol) and naproxen (Aleve)
- A short course of muscle relaxants, antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs or stronger pain relievers
- Steroid injections to reduce swelling and inflammation
- Nerve block injections, if appropriate
Surgical and treatment innovations
If you suffer from chronic back pain, you and your doctor may have already explored a surgical option. Other options to discuss with your doctor may include:
- Pain pumps (called patient-controlled analgesia, or PCA), often used in the hospital, allow the patient to push a button on a computerized pump that injects medicine into the spinal area.
- Bioelectric therapy issues low-level electrical signals that interfere with or block pain signals to the brain.
- Ultrasound (high-frequency sound waves) and low-level laser therapy may be useful in treating back pain flare-ups.
Self-care tools and techniques
Safe strengthening exercises taught by PTs enable your muscles and skeleton to do a better job of supporting your spine, thus relieving pain. PTs also teach patients:
- Exercises that increase physical fitness, balance and flexibility, improve posture and enhance general well-being
- Movement and body mechanics that help patients feel and function better
- Relaxation and muscle tension reduction techniques
- The use of ice and heat: Cold, in the form of a brief ice massage, is a pain killer and anti-inflammatory. Moist heat is a muscle relaxant.
- Goal setting, journaling and daily schedules customized for your personal needs
Complementary and alternative medicine
Chiropractic and massage therapies are often covered by health insurance, making them accessible to many patients. Patients may find them comforting or worth a try in conjunction with other therapies:
- Acupuncture (nerve stimulation that releases pain-blocking body chemicals)
- Chiropractic therapy (bone manipulation)
- Massage therapy (manipulation of soft body tissues)
- Mind-body therapies (guided imagery, hypnosis, meditation and biofeedback)
A combination of treatments and techniques may offer the effective relief you need to feel well. When it comes to treating chronic back pain, no single method is guaranteed to produce complete pain relief. And while people with chronic back pain can work with a team of pain management experts, clinicians agree that the best results come from self-care. Patients who use pain relief strategies consistently have the best chance of returning to the normal activities they enjoy.
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