As the opioid epidemic rages on, people with chronic pain are left with a dilemma: how to manage pain at a time when medication is being limited due to increasing problems with addiction and abuse. If you suffer from chronic pain, there is another option in chiropractic care, which can help you get off your opioid prescriptions.
If you take opioid medications for chronic pain, you know they work to help you function and live a normal life. People who take pain medication can parent children, go to work every day, and even exercise, which they typically cannot do without pharmaceutical help. Common opioid medications, also known as narcotics, include:
These are the generic names for these medications, which also go by numerous trade names. However, the generic is always listed on the bottle and in the package insert along with the trade name, for your information.
The problem with opioids is their relief can come at a cost. Users of opioid medications frequently develop a tolerance to them, where they need more and more of a drug to get the same effect from it.
This results in people taking unsafe levels of these medications, which increases the side effects. Common opioid side effects include:
Liver damage (especially if the opioid is paired with acetaminophen, AKA Tylenol, for increased efficacy)
Nausea and vomiting
Constipation, abdominal distention, and bloating
Respiratory depression and subsequent brain damage from hypoxia (lack of oxygen to the brain)
Hypotension (low blood pressure)
Bradycardia (slow heart rate)
Extreme fatigue and sedation
Physical and psychological dependence
The very drugs that are supposed to help restore some semblance of a normal life wind up inhibiting it when taken to excess. In extreme cases, overdose can occur, the signs of which include:
Extreme confusion and slurred speech
Slack muscles and inability to move
Inability to react to stimulus
Loss of consciousness
Slow or stopped breathing or respiratory “rattles” (may be confused with snoring)
Purple or ashy skin
Blue or black lips and fingernails
Slow or absent pulse
If a loved one shows any of the signs above, it’s vital to call an ambulance via 911 and get them to the emergency room immediately. There are drugs that can reverse the effects of opioids but they need to be administered within a certain time frame to be effective in order for the recipient to survive.
People die every day in the United States from opioid overdoses, including accidental overdoses. In 2016, over 42,000 deaths in the US were due to opioid overdoses.
Opioid tolerance also greatly increases the expense of these prescriptions. If your doctor or pharmacist feels you are taking too high a dose of your medication, you may be told to reduce the dose. This causes embarrassment, and you can be left with a suboptimal dose that doesn’t relieve your pain any longer.
Other negatives of taking prescription opioid medications include:
Pharmacies often run out of these drugs because they stock them in limited amounts due to theft.
It can be difficult to travel with opioid medications, even with a prescription, because they are considered a controlled narcotic substance.
Employers who conduct drug screens may not want workers who take narcotic substances of any kind.
Taking high doses of opioid pain medications can mask other pain, which is there to alert you to a serious problem.
Taking opioid medications can result in social stigmatizing, where people who don’t have a comprehensive understanding of the opioid epidemic don’t realize that you need help for chronic pain. People who take opioids can even come under fire from medical professionals who see them as “drug seekers” when they are seen for pain in urgent care or the emergency room.
Opioids can interfere with other medications and supplements you take for conditions not related to pain by competing for metabolic pathways in the body, thereby either increasing or decreasing the effect of the opioid.
Taking opioid pain medications leaves you few alternatives if you require pain medication for another condition because you may already be maxing out your body’s ability to metabolize pain pills.
Keeping prescription opioids in the home means they could be found and taken by children or teens, which could result in accidental poisoning or recreational abuse.
People who know you take opioid drugs can make you a target for theft, either in your home or from your purse.
The side effects of opioids can be so severe that you wind up taking other drugs to manage them, including antihistamines, anti-nausea medications, and stool softeners. These drugs can have their own side effects, and of course increase your bill at the pharmacy.
The cost of taking opioid medications over time can be significant, especially if the medication that works for you isn’t on your health plan’s formulary and you have to pay out of pocket for a different drug.
Prescription pain medications may make life more manageable, but they mask pain instead of getting to the root cause of it, which may be fixable.
As noted above, physical and psychological dependence can develop as a result of long-term use of opioids, even at reasonable, safe doses. While it makes sense that your body craves a substance that provides relief from pain, you do not want to become addicted to any opioid medication.
Addiction can lead to abuse and can result in a host of undesirable consequences because people who are addicted to a medication will essentially do anything to get it. Signs of opioid addiction and abuse include:
Taking more than the prescribed amount of medication
Taking the medication for recreational use to feel relaxed or to get high
Constant pinpoint pupils
Inability to function due to extreme side effects, especially sedation
Slips, falls, and accidents, including motor vehicle accidents, due to sedation
Poor work or school performance
Lack of interest in hobbies and normal pleasures
Dramatic mood swings
Increased risky behavior
Using multiple doctors or pharmacies and multiple opioid prescriptions
Stealing opioids or money for opioids
Buying opioids on the street
Taking opioid medications in a different way than how they are prescribed, such snorting them
Withdrawal symptoms when unable to obtain medication within six to 72 hours (nausea, cramping, agitation, anxiety, depression, difficulty sleeping, racing heart, sweating, shivers, tremors, and drug cravings)
If you yourself show these signs or you notice them in a loved one, it’s time to get help from professionals, either to greatly reduce your opioid medication or to eliminate it altogether.
Fortunately, there are many resources at your disposal to help with opioid tolerance, dependence, addiction, and abuse. Typically, there are detox measures you can undergo to end addiction:
Medical detoxification at a rehab center
Support groups and 12-step programs
These programs can be effective at eliminating opioid medications from the participant’s life. But what are they going to do for their lingering chronic pain? Usually, muscle relaxers and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen weren’t effective, which is why the individual started taking an opioid in the first place.
Luckily for chronic pain sufferers, chiropractic care and other forms of complementary medicine can help people get off their opioid prescriptions. To understand how chiropractic is beneficial in this situation, it helps to first learn how opioid medications work.
Your body has opioid receptors in your brain, spinal cord, and other areas of the body, such as the digestive system. Opioid receptors exist outside the nervous system because those parts of the body were once part of your developing brain and spinal cord, until the different body parts separated during fetal development. When an opioid drug binds with your opioid receptors, it shuts off your pain mechanism.
Opioids also produce a “high” feeling of great calm and relaxation, which is why they are often abused as street drugs and why they easily become addictive. They are in the same broad class as heroin. Your brain gets a tiny chemical reward every time you feel good when taking an opioid, until you no longer want to go without that elated feeling, another reason opioids are so addictive.
In order to replace opioid medications for chronic pain sufferers, complementary medicine techniques need to provide the same level of relief, either by reducing how much pain someone feels or by treating the root cause of the pain. Alternative medicine non-drug techniques that help to relieve pain, albeit usually temporarily, include:
Chiropractic care, however, helps get at the root cause of chronic pain, while also providing relief in the moment. While spinal manipulation is the mainstay of chiropractic treatment, chiropractic care has expanded greatly over the last two decades to include other diagnostic and therapeutic modalities. Other elements of chiropractic that assist with pain include:
NUCCA adjustment that focuses on the neck
Manipulation of the body outside of the spine
Recommendations for sleeping surfaces (mattress and pillows)
Ergonomic training to educate patients on proper sitting, lifting, etc.
In fact, chiropractic is so effective that it is now recommended by conventional Western medicine practitioners and is included in the American College of Physicians’ guidelines for treating nonradicular low back pain.
Why does chiropractic care work so well for chronic pain? First, it addresses postural and alignment problems that could be causing or exacerbating pain. Because all your nerves stem from your spinal cord, any misalignment there can affect your whole body, especially your arms and legs.
Adjustments to the neck can relieve pain lower on the body, as well as headaches, shoulder pain, and jaw pain. After a thorough physical exam to determine the cause of pain and any other resulting pain problems, a chiropractor will use various chiropractic techniques to realign the spine and eliminate misalignment as a cause of pain.
Chiropractic care also helps relieve muscle tension, stiffness, spasms, and a reduced range of motion that comes from bracing against chronic pain or compensating for one part of the body being constantly in pain. For example, if you have a sore right hip due to severe osteoarthritis, your right leg may become sore as well from taking more of your weight, whether you’re walking or lying on your side sleeping.
Treating pain through chiropractic care triggers a domino effect of positive benefits for patients. When they feel less pain, they sleep better and suffer from less depression. That in turns helps relieve even more pain because both insomnia and depression contribute to pain.
A 2012 US study that is highly referenced showed that roughly one-third of patients who elected to try chiropractic care instead of medication for neck pain became pain-free as opposed to just 13 percent who became pain-free with only medication. This is significant because it shows that chiropractic care can actually relieve pain better than drugs in some cases.
If you suffer from chronic pain and take opioid medication, it’s wise to consider other non-pharmaceutical options to manage your pain. Never give up taking prescription opioids cold turkey. Talk to your health care provider about how you could step down to a lower dose while starting chiropractic care. Eventually, you may be able to discontinue your opioid pain medications completely with alternative therapies.
To find out more about how chiropractic care can help with your chronic pain, contact True Spine Chiropractic today. Our goal is to help patients get rid of pain and live fuller lives. We want your brain and your body to communicate properly so we strive to remove stresses to the body that impede that. With our expert chiropractic care, you may be able to live pain free and stop taking opioid medications that put your health in danger. Take the first step and get in touch for a free consultation!