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Treating Chronic Pain Without Opiates

by Ingrid Manfredo, LCSW-C, LCADC

chronic painToday, over 100 million Americans deal with chronic pain conditions. Many people think that if they have chronic pain, their choices are limited to opiate prescriptions, illegal drugs, or simply suffering with it. Our country faces epidemic levels of addiction and deaths from opiate abuse and overdose—as well as rising associated costs attributed to secondary medical problems, mental health and addiction problems, disability and accidents, lost wages, etc. There is, however, growing research in the field of chronic pain treatment that provides hope for healthy, and effective alternatives.

Research and education is critical

Chronic pain is not rooted solely in the location of the injury; it also involves the limbic and prefrontal cortex of the brain. This is the part of the brain that remembers and “makes sense” of bodily sensations, resulting in “body memory.” Body memory can, in turn, trigger ongoing pain responses for some people. What percentage of sensation is simply body memory versus tissue damage-related sensation remains a mystery. But what is known is that neuroscience is  continuing to reveal more about the role of neuropathways with chronic pain, and that ongoing research and greater knowledge are needed to develop solutions that can avoid the potential for addiction.

Examining the mindset around pain

It’s important to gain an understanding of where we get our views and beliefs about pain and chronic pain, what has influenced us, and what our expectations of relief and treatment are. Presumably, most of us would prefer to be pain-free as much as possible. However, the fact is that experiences come along that impede this, such as aging, injuries, or a wide range of medical conditions. If we consider the expectation that we may not be completely pain-free but that our pain could be reduced to 50% or even 30%, would we not prefer that as an option over suffering at 90 or 100%?  Or if we experienced pain some days but not all days? Examining where our “all or nothing” mindset comes from may help us adjust our expectations which can lead to a better quality of life without the risks associated with reliance on opiates. Adjusting our expectations may empower us with day-to-day choices for our functioning versus being at the mercy of the effects of pain medication.

Various approaches with promising results

Some alternatives to opiates that have proven to be effective in helping to ease chronic pain include:

  • Movement therapies
  • Nutrition approaches
  • Herbal remedies
  • Mind-body approaches
  • Energy healing
  • Physical manipulation
  • Lifestyle changes

Below is a list of resources to begin your research for what might work best for you and to become an educated patient. Share these with your physician and invite him/her to become a part of your treatment team. (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine)  (National Coalition of Chronic Pain Providers and Professionals)  (National Pain Foundation)

In addition, knowledgeable therapists, life coaches, or holistic centers can help you work on lifestyle changes and mind-body approaches to address chronic pain.

If you or someone you know in Frederick County, Maryland is struggling with mental health or opioid dependence issues, please contact the Frederick County Health Department at 301-600-1755 or call 2-1-1 for help and treatment options 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Airtime and other charges may apply for cell phone users. Mobile users may also call 1-866-411-6803.

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