It may not always feel like it, but physical pain from an injury or surgery can actually be helpful. Feeling pain keeps us from pushing too hard to use our bodies when it needs to rest. Pain keeps us from moving injured limbs as a way of protecting them from further damage. Opioid medications, which are very popular for treating pain, don’t take the pain away – they simply trick the brain into thinking the pain is not there. As a result, people tend to overwork their bodies when they should be resting, which causes additional problems and can make recovery take longer than it should. An extremely important thing to remember about opioid medications is that they can cause harmful side effects and place the patient at a high risk for dependence and addiction. The United States uses about 80% of the world’s opioid pain medication despite being 5% of the world’s population, and the number of opioid prescriptions nearly quadrupled between 1999 and 2014.
If you are preparing for surgery or are already experiencing pain from an injury or medical problem, there are effective ways to treat pain without using opioid medication:
- Injections or nerve blocks can be used to treat pain in a specific area. Doctors can inject medication that blocks or dampens pain over a series of injections or ongoing treatment.
- Creams and ointments that reduce inflammation, increase blood flow and lessen pain to a specific area may be helpful. They are available over-the-counter and also by prescription.
- Surgery may be necessary for correcting whatever is causing the pain.
- Physical or Occupational Therapy exercise programs designed to improve mobility and function can decrease pain. Methods that may be used in physical and occupational therapy include whirlpools, ultrasound and deep-muscle massages.
- Sending low-voltage electrical signals to the painful area through patches attached to the skin can provide short-term relief, especially to muscles. This is done in a doctor’s office but over-the-counter devices are available as well.
- Mindfulness techniques including meditation soothe the brain patterns underlying pain and, over time, these changes take root and alter the structure of the brain itself, so that patients no longer feel pain with the same intensity.
- Psychological counseling, depending on the patient’s specific pain concerns and history, can be helpful. Daniel Berland, M.D., Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at Michigan Medicine says, “Many patients have had things happen to them in life that make their brains react excessively to the pain they have in their bodies. It’s not because they’re crazy or want disability, but instead their brain’s response to pain has been effectively altered by their lives.” Options for counseling-based treatment include biofeedback, hypnotic analgesia and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
- Non-opioid medication options include Tylenol, anti-inflammatory drugs called NSAIDs (Ibuprofen) and others that can help with pain, mood and sleep. Some antidepressant and anticonvulsive medications have shown to help pain as well as mood and sleep. Patients should talk to their doctors before starting these medications, though, because they can have dangerous side effects.
- Massage causes relaxation and pain relief. In addition to relieving physical pain, massage can reduce stress and increase positive emotions.
- Acupuncture. Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice in which fine needles are inserted into various “acupuncture points” on the body to treat pain. It sounds painful, but the needles are so tiny that it doesn’t hurt. This practice is known to provide significant pain relief when done regularly.
- Tapping, otherwise known as EFT or Emotional Freedom Techniques, is a combination of ancient Chinese acupressure and modern psychology. EFT is free, can be learned fast and very effective.
- Herbal remedies/supplements. Some popular supplements that can help decrease pain include fish oil, glucosamine, probiotics, melatonin and magnesium. You definitely want to research and ask your physician before using herbal remedies and or/supplements, as certain herbal remedies can interfere with prescription medications.
- Watching what you eat can help reduce post-op inflammation and pain. Inflammation around the surgical site is a common cause of pain and discomfort after surgery. Foods that cause inflammation are refined carbohydrates including white bread, pastries and refined sugar, fried food, sodas and processed foods. Foods that help reduce inflammation include tomatoes, olive oil, green leafy vegetables, nuts, fatty fish and fruits.
It’s important to do plenty of research, talk to your doctor and set realistic treatment goals for your pain management. Trust yourself to know what is best for your body.
Parents, consider using alternative methods for managing pain in your home. Your teens need you to set an example for them!