If you listen to news reports, the tragic opioid epidemic in the United States today primarily seems like a youth and young adult problem. These populations are mobile and highly visible, and reports of overdoses occurring in public places like convenience store parking lots and even hospital bathrooms are frighteningly familiar. The sad truth, though, is that opioid abuse is also hurting older adults and seniors at alarmingly high rates, as well.
The older population is suffering silently in many cases, as large numbers of affected individuals live in rural areas without access to supportive care or many resources at all. Older Americans are overdosing in their homes, which goes unnoticed by the media. Or, they’re misusing opioids on a long-term basis in ways that are making them sick as they suffer serious side effects (nausea, dizziness, respiratory depression) of their pain relief efforts. Still more are embarrassed to admit they have a drug abuse problem, or they don’t even realize that they are addicted and at risk of overdosing.
The good news is that there are lots of ways to break the cycle of relying on opioids for pain management. Even doctors who once were quick to write prescriptions for oxycodone, hydrocodone, or codeine have now learned that these drugs have more drawbacks for almost all patients than positive qualities, and they’re focusing on alternative therapies. Chronic pain, or even acute pain following surgeries or dental procedures, is undoubtedly a real problem in many people’s lives. Unfortunately, the “quick fix” answer of opioids for pain control turned out to cause a crisis instead of solving problems.
So, what are your options for pain management without opioids? Let’s take a look at some of the proven treatments and more creative methods that are gaining in popularity now.
Try Alternative Medications
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) recently published new guidelines for opioid use in pain management practice that recommend alternative pain relief medications like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) or other treatments be offered for chronic pain in most cases. Unless you are actively being treated for cancer or receiving palliative end-of-life care, your doctors are now advised to avoid prescribing opioids. Do not panic! NSAID pain relievers like ibuprofen and naproxen are not addictive and are highly effective in combatting even tough pain. They are also available over the counter and are easily accessible.
Antidepressants, pain relieving topical creams, natural and plant-based remedies, and even injections are also viable alternatives. All of these medications do have side effects and can cause other issues in sensitive or high-risk individuals, so a doctor’s oversight is crucial if you’re undertaking any sort of medication regimen for pain control. Even if you’re simply treating chronic pain with NSAIDs you’ve purchased at the pharmacy, please consult your doctor for support.
Treat Underlying Conditions
Do you know whether a treatable underlying condition causes the source of your chronic pain? We’ve already mentioned antidepressants as an alternative pain control medication, and doctors have proved that depression, which is common in older adults, can intensify or even cause chronic pain on its own. It’s true that a certain degree of stigma surrounds depression in our society, but being depressed is nothing to be ashamed of. If you are experiencing symptoms of this highly treatable condition, get in touch with your doctor right away. Many family physicians are well-equipped to help, or they may refer you to a mental health specialist.
Other underlying conditions that may cause chronic pain include an undiagnosed need for a surgical procedure like a knee replacement, hip replacement, or even simple dental work like a tooth removal or filling. Taking pills to make the annoying pain go away will not solve your problem, and will likely create more suffering. Moreover, did you know that opioid painkillers can actually cause increased pain sensitivity through a condition known as hyperalgesia? Just working with a physician to remove any opioid use from your daily life could make pain less of a problem on its own.
Check out Counseling and Physical Therapy
In addition to helping diagnose and treat depression symptoms that may be causing chronic pain, counseling can help foster an understanding of the pain that has helped many confront and overcome it. Counselors are skilled in assisting patients to cultivate coping mechanisms or recognize that fear of pain (and not the actual pain itself) might be leading to a substance abuse problem. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one type of counseling that seeks to change thought patterns and behaviors that may be contributing to pain issues.
While counseling can strengthen your mind against pain, physical therapy offers hands-on relief. Massage, hot and cold compresses, and even electrical stimulation applied to painful parts of the body by trained physical therapists can go a long way to treating pain. Easy, gentle exercises advocated by these professionals can help with muscle and joint pain in amazing ways.
Take a Class or Discover a New Hobby
We mentioned gentle exercise above, but what does that mean? Practicing things like yoga, Pilates, and tai chi, or even walking outdoors or swimming are some great examples. Yoga, Pilates, and tai chi are usually best practiced with others in a class format, which is led by a skilled teacher who can assure that you are getting the most out of the exercise. The purpose of these specific physical practices is to strengthen what’s known as the mind-body connection, and they have been proven to help pain caused by prevalent conditions in older adults like arthritis, lower back pain, and angina. The benefits of joining a class can include making new friends, of course, and social connections are essential to fighting pain-causing conditions like depression, as well.
Meditate or Go to Religious Services
The mind-body connection can also be well served through the less physical practices of meditation or prayer. These practices do not require specialized equipment or access to classes, but they do promote a sense of well-being and calm that can combat the mentally draining effects of chronic pain. Finding a religious service to attend in your community may assist you in setting and keeping up meditation and prayer goals even when you may be feeling hopeless. Attending services may also acquaint you with others who are struggling, and religious centers like churches and temples may even offer support groups.
Eat Right and Make Other Lifestyle Changes
More and more research is pointing to proper nutrition as a cure for many common conditions. Poor diet may cause systemic inflammation that triggers all types of pain, and that means that some pain relief can be achieved by eating better. Being overweight can also cause a plethora of pain issues, and losing even small amounts of weight can help you manage pain, as well.
It’s true that many people who are in pain on a daily basis spend more time in bed or laying on the couch, which causes a vicious cycle of weight gain and loss of muscle tone that contribute to more pain. Getting up and moving around, as possible, may be a remedy. Consult your doctor to discuss making changes to your activity levels if you find yourself spending hours and days laid up.
Seek Support: You’re Not Alone
In the end, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone in your fight against chronic pain and forgoing opioid pain relievers even though you may feel isolated. Reach out to family members or close friends and talk to them about your pain. They will likely be willing to accompany you to doctor visits and just check in with you to see how you’re feeling. Allow others to help you find solutions.
Compassionate and experienced professional caregivers, like those employed by MediQuest are also extremely valuable to helping chronic pain patients improve their lives and feel supported. Reach out today if you or a loved one in Lancaster County, PA could benefit from receiving homecare services.