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Are Pain Medications Actually Managing Your Pain?

An Orthopedic Surgeon writes prescriptions for pain regularly. Prescriptions for pain medications increased 300 percent in the decade between 2003 and 2014, according to Consumer Reports. Originally intended to manage pain from conditions like cancer, opioid (narcotic) pain medications are now being used for orthopedic injuries and chronic pain by many Americans. That practice is not without costs, among which are side effects and the risk of addiction and overdose. For that matter, pain medications may not actually manage your pain. Here’s what you need to know about pain management, courtesy of the Orthopedic Research Clinic of Alaska (ORCA).

Pain Medicine and the Brain

Opioid pain medications affect the brain. In fact, they not only affect it, they can change the chemistry and possibly the physical structure of the brain. But they don’t actually solve the problem of pain and what caused it in the first place. Instead, they mask the symptoms. As you become used to the medications, you may need a higher dose to get the same effect. If you stop them suddenly, you may experience unpleasant symptoms because your body has become used to them. This is not an addiction but a condition called tolerance.

Increased Pain Despite Medication

Because of their effects on the brain and nervous system, opioid pain medications can actually increase your sensitivity to pain. Called hyperalgesia (high pain), this happens because the medications decrease your ability to tolerate pain and can actually increase your sensitivity to pain. It’s not uncommon for people who take opioids to continue to have pain or even have an increase in their pain, despite having healed from the original injury. Long-term use of opioid pain medications also increases the risk of side effects and addiction.

Other Options

One of the most important aspects of pain management is an accurate diagnosis of the root cause of the pain. That allows for targeted treatment that can help you heal. For example, if you have a back injury, physical therapy to strengthen back and abdominal muscles may allow you to stop taking pain medications or to take them only when you have a flare-up of pain. Our Orthopedic Surgeon recommends regular exercise such as walking, yoga and tae chi can promote muscle strength and flexibility as well as reduce stress which contributes to muscle tension and pain. Stress can also decrease your ability to tolerate pain. Some people find acupuncture helpful. Good body mechanics help decrease stress on the musculoskeletal system and can reduce your pain.

Pain management is a complex issue and is not without risk. It’s better to manage your pain without opioid medications if at all possible because of the risks of side effects and addiction. Work with your Orthopedic Surgeon and the rest of the healthcare team like the staff at ORCA. Please contact us today. We can design a program to help deal with orthopedic injuries and help you decrease or even eliminate your reliance on opioid medications.

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© 2019 by Orthopaedic Research Clinic Alaska

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The American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery

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