Back pain is the most common form of chronic pain, frequently experienced by nearly 80 million Americans at any given time. If you’re among those living with chronic pain, painkillers may be prescribed after pain is first reported to a board-certified orthopedic doctor. The problem with pain medications, other than the well-documented risk of addiction, is growing research suggesting such drugs may actually make chronic pain worse.
Increased Sensitivity to Pain
The long-term use of prescription painkillers may increase pain sensitivity. It’s a condition called hyperalgesia, which is related to continued use of opiates like oxycodone and morphine. A University of California study suggests the use of pain drugs to treat acute pain may contribute to the development of chronic pain.
Lingering Nerve-Based Pain
When pain becomes chronic, the original source of the pain sometimes disappears as pain signals originate from within the body’s nerve center. When pain essentially takes up shop within the nervous system, it becomes increasingly difficult to find a treatment that’s going to be effective.
Increasing Reliance on Pain Meds
A related issue with the continued use of painkillers is an increased level of tolerance to such drugs. Patients may reach a point where it takes higher dosages to have the same effects that the medication had at a lower dose. When this point is reached, patients are at increased risk of developing an emotional reliance on painkillers.
Alternatives to Painkillers
Opioid painkillers, in particular, are only meant for short-term use. And even with short-term use, patients need to be carefully monitored. There’s a growing trend to encourage patients to explore other treatments to manage persistent pain and consider alternatives to prescription pain medications, including:
- Electrical impulse delivery through TENS units to disrupt pain signals
- Herbal medications
- Dietary adjustments
- Exercise to release natural “feel good” chemicals called endorphins
Due to concerns over addiction, the role of painkillers to treat chronic pain is changing. It’s becoming increasingly common to only prescribe low doses of pain medications to patients to reduce debilitating pain until a source of pain can be determined and other treatments can be recommended.
For more information on non-surgical treatments for back pain, reach out to leading Los Angeles spine surgery center, The Spine Institute. Our experienced team of physicians can help determine the root of your pain and review all possible treatment options. Schedule an in-person consultation today by calling (310) 828-7757.