The specter of addiction and its consequences frightens many sufferers of chronic back pain away from using medication. However, bear in mind it is only one class of analgesics or painkillers that hold the potential danger of addiction: the opioids, or drugs containing opium.
The opioids include oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), hydromorphone, and meperidine (Demerol). Their patented names have become familiar to most of us through movies, TV shows, and the media. According to Harvard Medical School, opioids are helpful in that they are very efficient at decreasing the brains’s perception of pain. The problem is that they create a feeling of euphoria, which is why these medications pose a high risk of addiction.
In his 2011 study “Doctor’s Dilemma: Opiate Analgesics and Chronic Pain,” H L Fields writes that the most powerful opiate analgesics are also the most likely to cause abuse and addiction. Unfortunately, he says, science has not come up with a way of uncoupling the powerful analgesic benefits of these drugs from their potential for addiction. Fields says that although there is no controversy over using opioids for acute or short-term treatment, there is growing reluctance among physicians to prescribe them for chronic non-malignant pain, such as back pain.
One school of thought believes that the risk of opioid addiction is very small, and people are denying themselves an effective treatment. The opposing school believes addiction is a significant risk and is common among patients treated with opiates. Harvard suggests only 3% of those taking opioids are in danger of becoming addicted. If you have no history of drug addiction or drug abuse, you are not likely to develop an addiction to opioid medication. Yet, opioid addiction is at epidemic levels in the United States, and opioids are some of the most controlled and regulated drugs by governing authorities.
However, there are alternatives to medication that can be part of an overall integrated treatment that may include but is not limited to drugs:
1. According to WebMD, acupuncture is considered one of the best alternative therapies for lower back pain. Acupuncture, which has been practiced in the east for centuries, involves inserting very fine needles into your skin at specific points on your body to help relieve pain. It is believed to be particularly useful for soothing muscle spasms in your back. The relief can last for up to a few weeks after a round of treatments.
2. Massage is also very beneficial in soothing back pain to help you function better. It won’t cure the back pain, but you might be able to reduce amount of medication you are taking. Getting regular therapeutic massages may relieve your back pain for up to six months.
3. The Mayo Clinic emphasizes that physical therapy is the cornerstone of acute back pain treatment. Regular exercise helps to relieve the pressure on your discs. Start a walking program or consult a bio kineticist or physical therapist about exercises that will strengthen your back muscles. Tai chi is also very good option to help relieve your back pain. If you are suffering acute pain that has you flat on your back in bed, your doctor might prescribe a short course of opiate pain medication to enable you to get out of bed and start exercising.
4. Both yoga and Pilates, which combine stretching and strength exercises, have been shown to help relieve back pain. It is recommended that you do it three to four times a week, working up to hour-long sessions. WebMD suggests you break down the exercises into 10-minute intervals throughout the day.
5. Chiropractic therapy, which involves manipulating your spine, can also help reduce back pain. However, it’s not recommended for people suffering from neuropathic or nerve pain. Doctors advise 12 sessions by a recognized professional, after which you might feel relief for several months.
6. Research into the efficacy of mind-based therapies such as meditation and progressive muscle relaxation is inconclusive, according to WebMD. However, it cites a 2016 study that found that just thinking about stressful events could significantly increase tension in your back muscles. It stands to reason, therefore, that relaxation techniques could offer some pain relief. Relaxation techniques that calm the mind and relax your muscles elevate your sense of well-being. Using them regularly means you can combat the harmful effect of stress.
7. Results from a clinical trial, cited by WebMD, indicate that meditation may work better at soothing chronic lower back pain than painkillers. The researchers found that the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) technique, involving meditation and some simple yoga poses, beat standard medical care for lower back pain. The researchers said the programmer would not suit everyone, but there was value in offering people an approach that focused on the mind.
While doctors are divided on the dangers of opioid drugs, there is some hope that non-pharmacological remedies for back pain are available and they do work.