There are over 100 million Americans who suffer from chronic pain. If you have ever experienced severe pain that lasts over a week, you know the personal cost of chronic pain and the levels of desperation that pain can drive you to get rid of it.
Pain As A Separate Condition
Doctors and researchers have discovered, though, that after 3-6 months, any severe pain that lingers following an accident or a surgery is likely not merely a symptom of the original accident or surgery. Pain that lingers is actually a separate condition, one where the nerve cells that transmit pain signals become hard-wired to signal there is pain…even when there is no reason to transmit pain signals.
The problem with chronic pain, then, may no longer be in your back or your knee… it’s in your brain and your nervous system.
Addiction to Narcotic Pain Meds
Treating chronic pain using narcotic pain medications is rarely effective, as you will develop a tolerance for the medication and eventually become addicted to it. It will become less and less effective in managing pain, but you will have to take it to avoid withdrawal symptoms. More and more physicians in the U.S. are recognizing the ineffectiveness of narcotic pain medication for pain management and the terrible toll that addiction to these drugs is having on individuals taking them.
Healing the “Nervous” Nervous System
What are effective alternatives to taking pain medication to manage severe chronic pain? As opposed to numbing the nervous system or providing a temporary escape from the pain experience, the most effective methods calm the nervous system and may change the way the brain responds to pain signals, which ultimately leads to a perception of decreased pain.
If a treatment method allows a person to move their pain level from a 9 or 10 to a 2 or 3, that’s effective pain management, even if all we have done is alter the way your brain perceives pain signals.
3 “No Pain Pill” Alternatives
1. The “bible” that I use with clients who want a drug-free method to manage even the most severe chronic pain is Full Catastrophe Living by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. Dr. Kabat-Zinn founded the Massachusetts General Hospital Pain Reduction Clinic, working with the most damaged medical patients in severe chronic pain, using no-drug and no-surgery techniques. 15 years after it’s first publication, it remains the best program I know of for managing chronic pain without drugs. Working with a therapist who can teach you mindfulness skills and cognitive behavioral therapy makes the program even more effective.
2. Acupuncture has been proven to relieve chronic pain better than standard drug treatment and better than placebo. If you have never had acupuncture, I highly recommend you try it. It is painless (a good thing if you suffer from chronic pain) and some insurance companies now cover it as a procedure.
3. Massage Therapy. Although there is inconsistent empirical support for massage therapy as an effective treatment for chronic pain, over 28% of those who received therapeutic massage report that it gave them the greatest relief from their pain. I often recommend it for both stress management and as an adjunct for clients suffering from chronic pain.
Getting Off Drugs – Safely
If you are on narcotic pain medication now and are interested in getting off of them and managing your pain without them, the best advice is actually to stay on them while you learn and experiment with alternative methods for managing your pain. As you become able to successfully manage your pain, you can work with your doctor to slowly reduce your reliance on your pain medication.
Under no circumstances should you stop your pain medication without consulting with your doctor, as there can be serious side effects and withdrawal symptoms related to doing so.
Hope for Drug Free Pain Management
Although you may not have been given hope that you can manage your pain without drugs, there are effective alternative treatments for pain management that you can explore. More than just freedom of pain medication, feeling empowered to manage your chronic pain is an amazing achievement… one that is certainly possible for you.
Dr. Anita Sanz, PhD, Psychologist
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