Reliance on pain medication for non-oncological pain is adding to the growing opioid epidemic in our country. Six out of 10 individuals who have died of an opioid related cause have received a diagnosis of non-cancer pain condition. Physical pain can have many causes. Solving the problem of pain requires understanding of pain and knowledge of nonpharmacological treatment and safer pain management options.
Opioids are a class of drugs that include prescription pain relievers oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, fentanyl, as well as the illicit drug heroin. These drugs work to reduce pain by interacting with opioid receptors in the nervous system. These substances can be highly addictive. Twenty-five percent of those prescribed prescription painkillers maybe at risk for addiction according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Family history of addiction or history of mental illness may increase the odds of addiction.
In the last 20 years the sales of prescription drugs have quadrupled. This correlates directly with the increase in the quadrupling overdose death rate in the last 20 years.
Our culture of instant gratification may have been a contributing factor to this epidemic. The expectation of instant pain relief from a pill in conjunction with a lack of initiative to take proactive health measures has increased dosage and exposed people to potential addiction. Our sedentary lifestyle with expectations of instant gratification was a perfect market for these drugs. Chronic pain management (pain lasting greater than 90 days) needs a plan beyond taking a pill. Evidence suggests that long term opioid reliance may actually make the pain worse, a phenomenon called hyperalgesia.
It is always important to consult your physician who can help you develop a pain management plan that is right for you. Some non-pharmacological approaches to pain management include: physical therapy, exercise and proper nutrition, cognitive behavioral therapy/emotional freedom technique (EFT), acupuncture, meditation, and spirituality.
Physical therapy has been proven as a leading pain management option for musculoskeletal pain. The CDC cites “high quality evidence” supports exercise for low back pain, hip and knee arthritis, and fibromyalgia. The goal is to treat the cause and underlying issue of the pain, not to mask it. It is important to realize that these management options are for a long term solution. A physical therapist can devise a personalized plan of corrective exercise to help restore function and maintain mobility.
There are safer ways to manage pain than taking a pill. The choice is in your hands. Talk to your doctor about physical therapy and let us partner with you to help manage your pain.
Courtney Budd, PT, is a Physical Therapist and Supervisor of Physical Therapy in Cooper’s department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation in the Cooper Bone and Joint Institute. For more information about this service at Cooper, please click here.