Chronic pain is defined as pain that persists beyond the normal healing time of about 12 weeks. It affects millions of people and can severely impact their quality of life.
Although opioids have often been used to manage chronic pain, they come with potential risks such as dependency, addiction, tolerance, and even overdose. In light of the current opioid crisis and the harmful effects of long-term opioid use, finding alternatives has become a top priority for people suffering from long-term pain.
Are there safe yet effective treatments for chronic pain? Let’s explore what options are available for today’s patients.
What Are Opioids?
Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and many others.
Opioids work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and nervous system. These receptors are responsible for transmitting pain signals. When opioids bind to these receptors, they block pain signals and produce a feeling of euphoria.
While opioids are highly effective at relieving pain, they can also be addictive. When taken in high doses or for an extended period, opioids can lead to dependence and addiction, which is a chronic brain disease that can be very difficult to treat.
The risk of addiction is especially high when opioids are used to manage chronic pain. People with chronic pain are more likely to take opioids for a long time, and they are also more likely to develop tolerance and dependence.
Types of Non-Opioid Medications
Non-opioid treatments are methods and medications used to manage pain that do not involve opioids. Their benefits include fewer side effects, lower risk of dependency, and an overall better safety profile compared to opioids.
Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers
Over-the-counter pain relievers like paracetamol and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen are commonly used for mild to moderate pain.
Prescription Non-Opioid Pain Medications
Antidepressants and anticonvulsants are prescription medications often used in managing chronic pain. They work by altering the body’s perception of pain.
Topical analgesics like capsaicin cream or lidocaine patches can be applied directly to the area of pain, providing targeted relief while minimizing systemic side effects.
Non-Pharmacological Pain Management Techniques
Many doctors and specialists use a variety of non-medicinal methods to treat pain. The results vary widely based on each patient’s physical condition, pain tolerance, and response to the treatment. These options include:
• Physical therapy and regular exercise can improve mobility, strengthen muscles, and reduce pain
• Hot needling and chiropractic care can help manage certain types of pain, particularly musculoskeletal pain
• Cognitive behavioral therapy helps patients cope with chronic pain by changing the way they think about their condition
• Mindfulness, meditation, and relaxation techniques can help manage chronic pain by reducing stress and promoting relaxation
• Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) delivers mild electrical impulses to the skin, which can help alleviate pain
Minimally Invasive, Non-Opioid Treatment for Chronic Pain
In addition to the methods above, some alternative treatments have been gaining traction in recent years because of their higher levels of effectiveness in reducing chronic pain and enabling the body to function normally. These types of non-opioid treatments for chronic pain are frequently performed at pain management clinics:
Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a minimally invasive procedure that uses heat to destroy nerve tissue that is transmitting pain signals to the brain. RFA is most commonly used to treat chronic pain in the back, neck, and joints, but it can also be used to treat pain in other areas of the body, such as the head, limbs, and abdomen.
RFA is a safe and effective procedure with a low risk of complications. It is performed under local anesthesia, so you will be awake during the procedure. The doctor will insert a needle-like probe into the affected area and then use radio waves to heat the tissue. The amount of heat used is carefully controlled to avoid damaging surrounding tissue.
Trigger Point Injection
A trigger point injection is a procedure that involves injecting a local anesthetic, sometimes combined with a steroid medication, into a body’s “trigger point” to relax muscles and relieve pain. Trigger points are painful knots in muscles that can form when muscles are overused or injured. They can cause referred pain, which means that the pain is felt in a different area of the body than where the trigger point is located.
A nerve block is a procedure that involves injecting a local anesthetic or other medication around a nerve to block pain signals from reaching the brain. Nerve blocks are not a cure for chronic pain, but they can provide significant pain relief. The amount of pain relief you experience will vary depending on the specific condition being treated. In some cases, nerve blocks can provide pain relief for several months or even years. In other cases, the pain relief may be temporary.
A corticosteroid injection is a procedure that involves injecting a corticosteroid medication into a joint, muscle, or other area of the body. Corticosteroids are a type of anti-inflammatory medication that can help reduce pain and swelling. Corticosteroid injections are typically done in an outpatient setting, and you can go home the same day. You may experience some soreness and stiffness at the injection site for a few days, but this usually goes away on its own.
Lifestyle Modifications for Chronic Pain Management
Many chronic pain patients can find some relief from their pain by following some simple lifestyle changes. The following habits are highly recommended by pain management specialists:
Diet and Chronic Pain
Consuming anti-inflammatory foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can potentially reduce inflammation and pain.
Regular exercise releases endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, and can also improve mood and overall health.
Healthy Sleep Patterns
Good sleep hygiene plays a crucial role in managing chronic pain as poor sleep can exacerbate pain perception.
Stress management techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, and mindfulness meditation can help reduce the impact of stress on chronic pain.
Non-Opioid Treatment for Chronic Pain With HPM
At HPM, we provide several non-opioid and non-surgical treatments for a long list of painful conditions. Our highly trained medical experts take the time to assess each patient’s pain and use the most effective treatment to reduce their pain and return their bodies to normal function. HPM operates pain management clinics in rural communities throughout America, bringing top-notch care to those who need it most.
Non-opioid treatments for chronic pain offer a variety of safe and effective options. By exploring these alternatives, patients can potentially improve their quality of life while minimizing the risks associated with long-term opioid use.