There are many conditions that modern medicine cannot neatly resolve, but there are precious few that researchers aren’t even sure how to explain. Chronic pain is a confounding condition that is as impossible to diagnose as it is to cure; because pain cannot be measured, only felt by those suffering from it, the typical health care solution to chronic pain has become pain management.
Unfortunately, for the past few decades, the management of chronic pain has taken the form of opiates and other narcotic solutions. While these drugs can alleviate some or all pain, they pose other very real threats, like addiction, lower immunity, weight gain, sexual dysfunction and more.
Those suffering from chronic pain should first exhaust other, non-narcotic solutions before submitting to opiates. Here are some safer alternatives for managing chronic pain:
Heat and Cold
Heat and cold are some of the easiest and least risky methods of managing pain. It is common for chronic pain sufferers at the beginning of their condition to experiment with heat and cold in different ways, such as through heating pads and ice packs as well as topical treatments that provide heating or cooling effects. Both heat and cold have the ability to alleviate pain to some degree; heat increases blood flow and relaxes muscles whereas cold reduces inflammation. Some pain sufferers prefer one temperature over another, while some pain sufferers find a beneficial pattern of heat and cold application. Serious chronic pain conditions might not be radically affected by heat and cold, but less severe pain conditions can be effectively managed with temperature without the risk of side effects.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, often abbreviated to NSAIDs (pronounced en-seds), are the most common medications for managing pain. There is a bevy of over-the-counter, non-prescription NSAIDs that most people are familiar with, like ibuprofen and acetaminophen — the active ingredients in common branded pain products Advil and Tylenol. NSAIDs work by preventing a certain enzyme from producing chemicals that encourage inflammation.
There are many types of pain that benefit from NSAID use, and their inexpensiveness and wide availability makes NSAIDs a viable option for many pain sufferers. Unfortunately, there are some downsides. Most NSAIDs come with side effects which might not be noticeable right away but will become more troublesome with long-term use; for instance, Aspirin can cause stomach ulcers and ibuprofen can result in liver damage. For those whose pain is the result of inflammation, it is imperative to talk to healthcare professionals about the practicality of relying on NSAIDs for pain management.
Some types of chronic pain are isolated in certain regions of the body, like the knuckles, the knees or the low back. To manage this type of pain, it might be worthwhile to consider some type of localized numbing, which does not affect the entire body but limits its pain relief to the targeted zone. This can provide the necessary pain relief without affecting other aspects of health or infringing on a patient’s lifestyle.
The best over-the-counter options include topical treatments that have lidocaine as an ingredient. Lidocaine works by preventing nerves from sending messages to the brain; importantly, this includes messages of pain, but it ceases all other sensations, too. Additionally, lidocaine does come with some serious side effects which worsen with long-term use, even in topical form.
CBD and THC
Though some might argue that compounds derived from the cannabis plant are, in fact, narcotic solutions, the truth is that cannabinoids can provide significant pain relief without the side effects of opiate pain relievers, NSAIDs and others. CBD and THC are natural compounds that work alongside the body’s systems to create greater balance and improved health, which includes inhibiting some sensations of pain. Studies have found that CBD and THC are particularly good at managing neurological pain, which most other pain solutions cannot treat.
Even better, CBD and THC can be administered in various ways, to suit the individual patient. For THC, you can smoke from a water bong, vape or roll a joint. For CBD there is CBD oil, gummies and even bath bombs among many other method. Sufferers should pursue medical marijuana licenses in their state, even in places like Michigan where marijuana is legal recreationally. Medical cannabis dispensaries provide one-on-one care, like a pharmacy, to ensure that patients receive the right products to ensure they can effectively manage their unique conditions.
Pain continues to baffle medical professionals, but as chronic pain gains visibility, more solutions are becoming available to pain sufferers everywhere. It might be wise to experiment with some of the above, non-narcotic options before succumbing to potentially hazardous opiate use.