Medication-Free Options for Back Pain Treatment
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Opioid painkillers and other drugs should be the last resort for treating back pain. Popular painkillers like morphine, oxycodone, or hydrocodone are highly addictive, as the feelings of pleasure they induce can make you want to take the drugs in doses higher than prescribed by your healthcare professional.
If you suffer from some sort of back pain, know that you are not alone. There are multiple options available and releasing yourself from the grip of back pain does not have to come with a laboratory label.
Dr. Robert Jamison, a professor of anesthesia and psychiatry at Brigham and Women’s Hospital says primary care doctors often don’t have much time or resources to provide their patients with various options for relieving back pain, and it’s simply easier and faster for them to write a prescription. ‘’Also, doctors don’t always know enough about other therapies to feel confident enough to suggest them,’’ he adds.
Most experts who recommend avoiding painkillers and medication do so mainly because of the associated risks and dangers. These drugs are no more than mitigators. All they do is temporarily cover up a problem. Instead of masking it, we ought to address the root problem head-on and that takes effort. In 2017, when the US Department of Health declared a national public health emergency, more than 130 people died every day from opioid-related drug overdoses. Isn’t it time we put a dent into these dire statistics and start dealing with pain in more natural ways that don’t cost lives?
The fact is, there are natural ways of treating back pain and you don’t have to reach over the counter to find relief in short-lasting, often addictive medication. Let’s have a look at the most popular ones.
Meditation Over Medication: MBSR and CBT
The sensation of pain begins and ends in your brain. And research has shown that mind-body practices can change the way we experience it. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and yoga are among the popular methods that teach you how to alter certain thoughts and behaviors involved with pain sensation.
MSBR is a mental exercise that places your focus on the moment rather than the pain and therefore lets you shift your attention away from the back pain that is ailing you. This method incorporates yoga or any form of mindfulness meditation, and can be practiced regardless of skill level, flexibility, or your ability to sit still for a long time. There are many different forms of meditation, poses in yoga and opportunities for you to engage yourself in this practice so that you can try and relieve yourself of back pain without medication. (1)
CBT on the other hand, unlike yoga or meditation-based therapies, is a form of psychological therapy that involves regular meetings with a therapist, often in a group setting. The goal is to recognize thoughts and behavior associated with back pain and redirect negative thoughts into positive actions to better manage the pain.
There are several studies, practices, research findings and anecdotal use cases proving these practices can be more effective than traditional back pain treatments. (2, 3) The field of neuroscience further backs these claims up. Here’s a particularly interesting excerpt:
Short pain/Acute pain are usually connected to the points of the brain that are involved in tissue damage. However, this chronic pain that you are dealing with in your back are mostly connected to the prefrontal cortex and limbic system. These parts of your brain are used for memories and have a strong emotional connection. That is why there might actually be pain even when your tissues are healed. The idea behind cognitive therapy is creating NEW passageways for this part of your brain so that they can get away from the pain-related ones.
Back pain can be managed within your four walls. You don’t need to undergo expensive medical procedures or stuff addictive painkillers down your throat to find relief. There are several treatment options you can do from the comfort and convenience of your home to find both temporary and prolonged belief, and all it takes is a little discipline and practice. Here are the most popular ones:
Studies continue to show their effectiveness in dealing with back pain. (4, 5, 6) The practice of hanging back at an inverted angle is gaining in popularity and offers a natural decompression of the spine, wherein the discs between each vertebra extend and lengthen, relieving the user off pressure and pain.
Setting up and practicing on an inversion table is a simple, safe and cost-effective way of treating back pain without taking a step outside of your home.
Research has also shown traction can be very helpful in providing relief in patients with back pain. (7, 8, 9) Similar to inversion, motorized traction units induce a decompressing force that widens the intervertebral space, freeing the discs, nerves, joints, and muscles of the spine.
You might have seen motorized traction units during your last chiropractor visits; these machines are more expensive than inversion tables but they can be just as effective in managing back pain through spinal decompression.
Heat and Cold
Have you ever put a frozen bag of vegetables after a light head injury to prevent bruising and pain? If you have, you’ve applied cold therapy to numb the pain and reduce inflammation and swelling. The same therapy can be used to treat back pain after an injury or at the moment the pain starts to surface. Frozen towels and gel packs work just as well as a bag of veggies, just make sure you don’t use them for longer than 20 minutes at time, to avoid ice burn.
After the initial swelling has subsided, apply heat therapy to begin the healing process. You can make a moist heat back and apply it to the affected area to encourage blood flow and heat into the muscles. This, in turn, will decrease their stiffness and block the pain signals to your brain.
Essential oils have been shown to have analgesic, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties, all of which can alleviate back pain. Lavender, Ginger, Lemongrass, Peppermint and Rosemary oils are among the most popular in relieving back pain.
Apply them either topically or inhale them throughout the day; just make sure you don’t take them orally and avoid contact with your eyes as essential oils are quite potent.
Self Massage for Back Pain
If you’re working a desk job, give yourself a few minutes every now and then to take a self-massage break. Lie with your back flat on the floor, your feet in line with your shoulders. Get a foam roller and place it against your back, right under your shoulder blades. Rock gently up and down, to and from your feet, to loosen the pressure points.
Excess weight contributes to back pain. Overweight people are often at a greater risk of back pain than people who are not obese. (10) Exercise, weight loss, and an active lifestyle have long been recommended as effective non-drug back pain therapies.
Losing weight can be a strong non-medication strategy that can alleviate other ailments and conditions.
Non-Drug Back Pain Relief Measures Yield a 90% Success Rate
A recent consumer study by the American College of Physicians surveyed 3,562 adults, of which 90 percent said yoga, tai chi and other drug-free treatment methods were helpful in managing back pain.
The idea of chronic pain is what really draws people on the edge of heading for the over the counter medications, or worse. The idea that they deal with this pain on a regular and daily basis makes them believe that medication is the only option. But to fight daily pain, you need to establish daily habits that prevent it.
Most of the methods we’ve listed above need to be practices on a daily basis to bring results. Not only are these procedures beneficial for your chronic back pain, they are also great for you as well in general. There are so many positive associations related back to yoga, meditation and cognitive therapy. Focusing on the moment, on breathing and on flexibility are overall great health practices to live a better life and lead a healthier lifestyle. Plus, the less weight you stress on your joints normally also means that your cholesterol levels will be lower, your arteries will be clearer and overall, your body will be healthier.
With new guidelines shifting the focus on non-pharmacologic therapies, using those first versus medication, we are bound to see more options for back pain patients who are looking for a drugless way of living a life free of back pain.