September is Pain Awareness Month
Updated: Jan 2
With the opiate crisis and fewer providers willing to prescribe narcotics, what are some alternate methods of combating pain?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, almost a third of chronic pain sufferers prescribed opiates misuse them. Four to six percent of those people will eventually transition over to heroin. With more and more drug overdoses in recent years, many states have made the over-the-counter sale of Narcan, the antidote for opiate overdose, legal without a prescription. While this life-saving medication is necessary to prevent death by opiate overdose, there are other methods and means of managing chronic pain before risking misuse of or addiction to opiates.
Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulators have grown in popularity in recent years.
The TENS unit is a non-pharmacological way of controlling and, sometimes, eliminating pain. The unit itself is about the size of a cell phone. It works by sending electrical impulses down a set of wires to electrodes placed on the skin around the painful area. These electrical impulses "confuse" the nerves in the painful area and overwhelm them. In turn, the nerves reduce or stop the number of pain signals they send to your brain, giving you much needed relief.
Because of their popularity, TENS units can be obtained from most major pharmacies and you can even find them on Amazon. Quality units can be obtained for less than $40. Electrodes can be worn underneath your clothing and the unit can clip to the waist of your pants for programming and relief throughout your day.
Helpful Tip: When using a TENS unit, dial up the electrical impulses to just where it starts to become uncomfortable. Then dial it back just once. Set for 10-20 minutes and relax.
A daily exercise routine is an important part of managing pain. No matter how much pain you
are in, there is almost always some type of exercise you can do.
Not only will you improve your overall health, a simple 30-minute per day exercise routine can help manage your pain as well. No matter how much pain you are in, there is almost always some type of exercise you can do, no matter how limited. Gentle ankle movements or hand squeezes are sometimes enough!
For those with limited mobility, consider finding small exercises you can do while seated or lying down. Some choices for you might be using resistance bands, simple stretches, or trying modified chair yoga.
For those without many mobility issues, walking, swimming, Pilates, Tai Chi, Vinyasa Yoga and strength training are all great options for getting in those 30 minutes per day.
Helpful Tip: Remember to start small and go slow. Exercise is not a competition.
"Talking to a medical provider, a physical trainer, a chiropractor or physical therapist prior to starting an exercise regimen is a good idea so your routine can be tailored more specifically to your needs." - Teresa Champion, APRN
Massage therapy can be a great way to manage chronic pain while obtaining all the other benefits massage offers. Pain can be reduced just because of the benefits of relaxation and stress reduction that massage produces. During a massage, the "relaxation" hormones in your body are released, reducing pain.
In addition to the relaxation and stress reduction, muscle groups and fascia are manipulated manually by the massage therapist, reducing pain in muscles, tendons and joints.
There are a wide range of massage styles, including Swedish, deep tissue, sports, Shiatsu, trigger point and reflexology. Rolfing is a variation of massage practiced by certified Structural Integrationists that concentrates on they fascia surrounding the muscles.
Natural aloe vera gel contains more than 200 biologically active constituents, including calcium, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, selenium and zinc—that provide essential nutrients and help boost metabolic function. It contains 20 of the 22 essential amino acids and the vitamins A, C, E, choline, folic acid, B1, B2, B3, and B6. It even contains B12, a vitamin that typically is only found in animal foods.
Aloe vera’s nutrients, as well as its anti-inflammatory and analgesic qualities, may be helpful in relieving muscle and tendon pain. The gel is sometimes used topically in sports medicine to soothe achy muscles, but taken orally, the anti-inflammatory ingredients may also help with pain.
It’s important to note that if you’re using aloe vera to reduce inflammation, you should also rebalance your diet. By eliminating unhealthy foods, aloe vera has a better chance of working.
Acupuncture, an ancient form of Chinese medicine, involves inserting thin needles into different points on the body. Traditional Acupuncturists believe acupuncture balances the flow of life energy or life force, known as "qi" or "chi". Western practitioners see it as a way to stimulate nerves and muscles, as well as your body's natural painkillers, promoting pain relief.
According to the Mayo Clinic, "several studies indicate that some types