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Can the World's Back Pain Be Managed Without Pills?

Published April 18, 2017

Painkillers are supposed to kill your pain—but do they? Statistics show that an estimated 1 out of 5 patients with non-cancer pain or pain-related diagnoses are prescribed opioids. Roughly 36 million people abuse opioids worldwide and out of that number, 2.1 million of those people are suffering from substance abuse —and were initially prescribed these prescription narcotics for the sole purpose of pain relief. From 1999 to 2015, over 183,000 people have died in the U.S. from overdoses related to prescription opioids. So how can you manage the debilitating pain without opening the door to possible opioid addiction or worse, death?

Dr. Murray J. McAllister founded the Institute for Chronic Pain in Stillwater, Minnesota, due to the alarming increase of substance abuse relating to how back pain is managed throughout the medical world.

“Even when it’s well-informed and done in the best interest of the patient, the recommendation and encouragement to learn to self-manage pain without the use of opioids can be heard as a subtle yet stinging rebuke because of the inherent sensitivity that occurs when taking opioids for chronic pain,” Dr. McAllister explained.

When patients arrive at rehabilitation clinics, this may be the first experience in managing pain without consuming these drugs.

“As we’ve seen, it’s a complex and sensitive interaction that occurs under the surface of the words that are spoken. It can be a lot to take in,” said McAllister.

“It can feel like the rules are being broken. Oftentimes, people need a little time to reflect on the discussion and talk it over with their loved ones. No one comes lightly to the decision to taper opioids and learn to self-manage pain instead.”

Chronic pain sufferers who take opioids for managing that pain may be skeptical to alter the current treatment plan. This is because it's difficult to comprehend that someone can get better by taking away the drugs. After all, they were designed to remove your pain in the first place. In theory, it can appear as if consuming opioids is the only option and any other physician who advises differently may not have the patient's best interest in mind, but that doesn't always have to be true. 

“The ability to treat pain without taking opioids means everything,” Dr. Jennifer Murphy said, clinical director of the Chronic Pain Rehabilitation Program (CPRP) at the Tampa, Florida, VA Medical Center.

“Instead of being dependent on pills and other passive treatment ‘fixes’ that too often fall short, our program and those like ours teach patients daily skills to take with them so that their pain does not feel so overwhelming,” Murphy explained.

Christopher Anderson, a U.S. Army Veteran who traveled cross country to attend CPRP said, “You know the amount of relief you are going to get [from opioids] and what kind of function you are going to have after. I have the tools to do the same thing now, without having to take opioids.”

Murphy concluded, “These techniques combined with more traditional treatments, such as physical and aquatic therapies, as well as counseling from psychologists, create a comprehensive alternative to opioids that focuses on the whole person with the goal of making life more tolerable and increasing the overall quality and personal enjoyment.”

To fully understand how to increase your quality of life without consuming opioid drugs, here are a few alternative treatments that you can explore:

It's not easy living with and managing chronic back pain. Your pain may never fully go away, but by utilizing the provided tools, you can dominate your life once again via multiple treatment options. Please speak with your medical advisor to find out if you can manage your back pain without the use of opioid drugs and get back the control any of these drugs may be taking away. There's always a Plan "B."

Updated: April 19, 2019

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