Health Literacy

Safe Methods for Managing Chronic Pain

Chronic Pain Depression Headache

When you’re in pain, nothing else matters. All that you can think about, all you can really care about, is getting it to stop.

But that kind of desperation can lead to profoundly destructive choices, as is evidenced by the current opioid epidemic. In fact, drug overdose is currently the leading cause of death for adults under the age of 50 in the US, with opioids accounting for more than half of those fatalities.

Yet healthcare providers continue to prescribe opioids at an alarming rate, with little recognition of the risk of dependency. Even less thought is given to how these drugs can be prescribed ethically, in the safest and most responsible manner possible, a manner that truly eases the patient’s pain, without subjecting them to still worse suffering.

How Big is the Problem?

The sad reality is that the problem of chronic pain is as ubiquitous and as catastrophic as the opioid epidemic itself. According to recent estimates, as much as 11% of Americans live with significant, long-term discomfort.

And chronic pain isn’t just an affliction of old age, of the wear and tear of overused joints or the consequences of accidents and injuries suffered across a long and active life. As we become increasingly confined to our desk jobs, spending our days on hard office chairs, typing away endlessly at our computer keyboards, we’re increasingly at risk for everything from lower back pain to neck strain to carpal tunnel. We have to keep in mind that everything is connected, and a simple step we can take to ease back pain is wearing shoe insoles. Shoe inserts improve the alignment of your body, allowing the skeleton to support a greater percentage of body weight, rather than depending on soft tissues to compensate.

Getting Help

Whether your pain is chronic or acute, the first thing you need to do is get help before your condition worsens and becomes harder to treat. Early intervention will also help ensure that you aren’t driven to unsafe habits, like taking a swipe here and there from that unfinished bottle of meds left over from your last surgery.

Your best bet, though, is to find a doctor who specializes in pain management. A pain doctor will be able to diagnose precisely the type are experiencing. They will know how to tailor a specific treatment plan rather than just throwing the most powerful narcotic at the problem.

They will also know how to develop a control strategy that is not only effective in reducing your pain, but that will also pose little risk of addiction. This means that your doctor won’t just turn to opioids as the first or only solution.

Rather, if analgesics are a part of your treatment regimen, they will be a part of an integrated plan that includes other approaches to facilitate pain control. This will make it possible to decrease your dosages and to shorten the amount of time you have to use them.

Before you even begin opioids, however, you will need to talk with your doctor about the best strategy for weaning off the drugs. After all, opioids were never intended for long-term use and quickly lose their effectiveness as an analgesic.

Living the Life

Enlisting the help of a qualified pain medicine specialist might be the first step in managing your condition, but it’s by no means the last. No matter what your diagnosis, whether you’re suffering from an illness or an injury, pain is never caused by a single source.

Regardless of its origins, for instance, the condition is exacerbated by stress and vice versa. So one of the best things you can do to help control the hurt is to control your stress. For instance, vascular diseases are among the leading causes of sometimes disabling leg pain.

However, incorporating stress-relieving activities, such as gentle exercise, from walking to yoga, can not only reduce your blood pressure but can also improve your circulation. And that adds up to less vascular pain!

Likewise, you might turn to alternative therapies, from massage to acupuncture, to help you manage your condition. At the very least, these are techniques proven to aid in relaxation, which will reduce the body’s levels of cortisol while supporting the body’s release of endorphins and other feel-better neurotransmitters.

The Time For Palliative Care

As hard as it may be to accept, there are some conditions that aren’t going to get any better. Progressive diseases, especially those that are terminal, often mean facing the reality of worsening pain.

There is hope even in the face of such a devastating diagnosis, however. It lies in palliative care. Family nurse practitioners are often on the front lines of this fight. They are specially trained to provide support and comfort for patients and families confronting some of humanity’s most debilitating conditions.

Palliative care encompasses both psychological and emotional support, as well as comfort care. The ultimate goal is to ensure the best possible quality of life for patients and their families. That often begins with effective pain management.

The Takeaway

Confronting chronic pain is often more frightening than confronting the actual illness or injury itself. But your life doesn’t have to end when you’re facing long-lasting pain. There are strategies that can help you manage your pain and return to the life you deserve. It begins with finding a pain care specialist with the expertise to customize a management strategy to your particular needs and goals. It also includes building a lifestyle that helps you manage stress and support your overall wellbeing.

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Brooke Faulkner is a writer, professional ponderer, and proud momma of two from the Pacific Northwest. When she's not at her desk, she's likely to be found zipping around on her old ATV. You can follow her on LinkedIn.

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