Each year in the United States, millions of prescriptions are written for opioids to relieve chronic pain. When used appropriately, they can be a viable treatment option for some patients. But, there are health risks associated with the use of opioids. Concerns about opioid addiction have led to increased regulation and changes in opioid prescribing guidelines. With the current opioid epidemic in the United States, healthcare providers and their patients are increasingly seeking non-opioid pain relief options.
Non-opioid pain medications
For non-opioid pain relief, non-prescription medications such as NSAIDS (e.g. naproxen or ibuprofen) or acetaminophen may be all that some patients need. Other patients may work with their physicians to find that prescription-strength NSAIDs, corticosteroids or muscle relaxants reduce their pain.
Antiseizure medications (anticonvulsants)can also be used as pain medication. They work by inhibiting certain types of nerve transmissions. This can decrease neuropathic pain sensations, such as those caused by trigeminal neuralgia or diabetic neuropathy. Anticonvulsants commonly used as pain medications include gabapentin and pregabalin.
Topical analgesics can also be beneficial for pain relief. Applied to the skin, these medications are available as creams, lotions or patches. Several can be purchased over-the-counter, while others need a doctor's prescription. They work in a few different ways, depending on their active ingredient. Some deliver pain medication through the skin, such as trolamine salicylate. Other topical analgesics contain ingredients that can interfere with pain perception, such as capsaicin.
Interventional pain procedures
If you’re suffering from chronic pain and want to avoid taking opioids or other medications altogether, a pain specialist can work with you to develop a pain management plan. Pain specialists can use interventional pain procedures – minimally invasive, outpatient procedures – to manage chronic pain. Joint injections, nerve blocks, and other minimally invasive procedures such as kyphoplasty and spinal cord stimulators are effective treatment options that can deliver significant pain relief. These procedures are often performed in an ambulatory surgery center, and patients are able to return home the same day. Many patients experience relief from their chronic pain symptoms shortly after their procedure.
Patients may choose to work with their healthcare providers to pursue non-drug remedies such as massage, acupuncture, and exercise to relieve chronic pain. Stretching, strengthening exercises, and low-impact activities such as walking and swimming can help reduce pain symptoms. In fact, exercise is often recommended to alleviate pain due to fibromyalgia, and many arthritis sufferers find that light exercise reduces their joint pain.
Regardless of your chronic pain condition, there are options for management of your pain symptoms that don’t include the use of opioids. To learn more and discuss treatment options that may be right for you, make an appointment with your physician or a board certified pain specialist.
Jarrett M. Leathem, DO is a board certified and fellowship trained pain management physician at The Pain Center in Arizona. Dr. Leathem has always believed that to be an excellent physician, it is imperative to provide individualized treatment for each patient.
The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace or counter a physician’s advice or judgment. Please always consult your physician before taking any advice learned here or in any other educational medical material.