If you’re a chronic pain patient, you probably know that changes in the law can make it difficult, if not impossible, to fill your opioid prescriptions. Like it or not, you need to find a way to manage without them.
The opioid crisis is real and has claimed countless lives, forcing everyone to balance the risks. Here are eight tips for managing chronic pain without these medications and still enjoying a healthy quality of life.
1. Educate Yourself to the Risks
Nearly 50,000 people fatally overdosed on opioids in 2019 alone. Many of these individuals began using opioids when their doctors prescribed them for unapproved uses. Because of how these medications cause chemical dependency, these unfortunate souls became hooked.
Using opioid medications can lead to street use. More than 80% of those struggling with heroin addiction began using prescription painkillers. Street drugs carry enormous risks. Dealers can lace them with anything and often do to “improve” the high — sometimes with fatal effects.
Opioids work by triggering the release of endorphins. These substances kill pain and produce mild euphoria. The problem is that you want the good feelings back when they wear off, leading you to use them repeatedly. The trouble arises from how these medications also induce respiratory depression through your central nervous system (CNS). Take too many, and you’ll fail to breathe, leading to death.
Learning how opioids affect your body can inspire you to quit. It’s not that you’re weak that you crave these medications — it’s because the chemical changes in your body prompt you to want more. Understanding the mechanism makes you less likely to take an unnecessary dose.
Biofeedback has proven effective in some studies to ease chronic pain without medications or harmful side effects. You can learn how to use such techniques under a doctor’s care and continue them at home.
Biofeedback includes sensors to monitor processes like your heart and respiration rate. As you focus on controlling these actions, you get immediate feedback from the electronics. The technique is similar to meditation, only using modern technology to give you instant results.
3. Dietary Changes
Much chronic pain results from inflammation. Switching to an anti-inflammatory diet might help ease some of your symptoms holistically with no side effects. You don’t have to completely overhaul your meal plan — simply follow these general principles for foods to enjoy and avoid:
Do eat plenty of fresh vegetables
These contain antioxidants and phytonutrients to lower inflammation.
Do eat plenty of oily fish
The omega-3 fatty acids fish contain reduced inflammation.
Do eat whole (not processed) grains
These are full of fiber, helping cool inflammation while keeping you fuller longer.
Do include pre and probiotics
Pre and probiotics support gut health, meaning the beneficial bacteria within send fewer distress signals to your brain from your intestines.
Don’t eat much (if any) white flour
Processed all-purpose flour contains a chemical byproduct called alloxan that induces diabetes in laboratory animals. When combined with the rapidly-absorbing calories, eating it becomes a recipe for inflammatory disaster.
Don’t eat too much sugar
Excess sugar causes spikes in blood glucose, increasing the body’s inflammatory response.
Don’t consume unhealthy oils
Even though the FDA banned trans fats, those found in processed foods can still spur inflammation.
Don’t drink to excess
Alcohol increases inflammation.
Additionally, you might experiment with reducing gluten or nightshade-family plants in your diet. Some chronic pain patients report that these substances increase their aches.
4. Healing Herbs
Certain herbs can reduce inflammation and make a delightful alternative to morning coffee. For example, turmeric is full of curcumin, a potent natural anti-inflammatory. Adding a dash of black pepper helps increase the bioavailability by a whopping 2000%.
Ginger is another anti-inflammatory herb that is widely used in Ayurvedic medicine. It likewise makes a sweet and spicy addition to teas. Pair it with some homemade ginger snaps, perhaps?
5. OTC Pain Management
Guess what? Many prescription medications have over-the-counter (OTC) counterparts in lower doses. No, opioids are not among them — but you can find special extra-strength formulations for conditions like arthritis and migraines.
Know how these medications work for maximum effectiveness. Naproxen (Aleve), ibuprofen (Advil), and aspirin are all NSAIDs — non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. They work to cool hot tissues and are most effective for conditions that lead to swelling.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) works by interrupting the pain messages between the injury site and your brain. Combining this substance with an NSAID often leads to the most efficient relief.
Acupuncture needles are so tiny that you’ll barely notice them. However, you could experience significant chronic pain relief.
Eastern practitioners believe the method works by activating the flow of chi or vital energy. Western scientists conjecture that the needles activate nerve endings, interfering with pain signals to the brain. Either way, the practice has over 3,000 years of use backing its effectiveness.
7. Cannabis (If Legal Where You Live)
When one substance becomes all but illegal, another one takes its place — and this one comes from nature. If cannabis is legal where you live, it could offer considerable pain relief.
Many migraine patients report considerable relief from this treatment modality. Those with nausea and vomiting often prefer inhaled vapors, although you can find edibles and tinctures.
Several studies confirm the herb reduces the intraocular pressure associated with glaucoma as effectively as current medications. Sadly, there is little other evidence outside of Dutch studies to date, as the Schedule 1 status prevents much research from occurring in the United States. However, many chronic pain patients swear by certain strains for relief.
Manage Chronic Pain Without Opioids
It’s more challenging than ever to get opioids if you formerly relied on them to manage chronic pain. Fortunately, you can enjoy a healthier quality of life using one of the above pain management methods.