Chronic pain is a huge issue worldwide, and the United States has not been able to avoid being part of this crisis. Opioid use continues to be a massive problem. Over the counter pain medications like Aspirin and Tylenol are taken in bulk just to get through the day. Some people go as far as doing nothing to avoid painful activities altogether. People are looking for pain relief, but they just can’t find it. So what is the secret to long term pain relief?
Let’s look at common options for pain relief before digging into how long term relief happens.
Whether it’s an opioid or Tylenol, pain medications are probably the most commonly used treatment for pain relief. The problem is that they don’t fix the cause of pain in most cases. Regular use, even if it’s “only” for a few weeks, can also have significant side effects. Chronic use of NSAIDS (Aspirin and Ibuprofen are common examples) is linked to weakening of soft tissues, which can make muscle or tendon tears MORE likely. Opioids have the obvious side effect of addiction as a possibility, but also tend to have a significant impact on your digestive tract and energy level, among other things.
Doing nothing is rarely the option for anything. Resting an acute (new, often sudden) injury is important, but at some point you’ll need to be more proactive. Having a strategic approach to becoming more active is vital, especially when dealing with chronic pain.
This is a broad topic and includes practices like homeopathy. These approaches are becoming more and more common in part due to the rising costs of traditional healthcare. The issue with alternative medicine is that there isn’t evidence for the success of these treatments. You might ask yourself, ”Where’s the harm in trying?” If your goal is trying to save money, you might end up spending a significant sum without seeing any benefit. Not only can certain types of alternative medicine be harmful, but you’re also losing valuable time you could be using on productive treatments. While these alternative medicines are usually good-natured, they often do not work and can become costly.
Chiropractic care works, and has a good deal of evidence behind its efficacy for many injuries. The issue with chiropractic care, and specifically chiropractic adjustments, is that you as a patient are passive in the process. Every few days you go in, get adjusted, and a few days you’re back in again for the same thing. This continues for months without long term benefit. This isn’t always the case, but if this sounds familiar to you, you should be considering other options to manage your symptoms (which could still mean seeing your chiropractor).
Surgery itself is just short of a miracle when you consider what things can be done. Of course, surgery has an important place in healthcare, but in recent decades there has been a massive rise in elective procedures to treat pain. Surgical procedures have not been shown to be superior to non-operative treatment for many chronic issues when looking at long term outcomes. Are there cases where elective procedures make sense? Absolutely! Choosing surgery first, especially for a chronic issue, is almost always the most expensive choice, and you’re never guaranteed to get the results you might expect.
So after looking at these options, and since you’re on a physical therapy blog, you’re probably thinking, “Go ahead and tell me why physical therapy is the best option.”
Spoiler Alert: Physical therapy is not the secret to long term pain relief – there really isn’t one. However, physical therapy is the only treatment option that emphasizes independent management of pain. Whether an injury is new or ongoing for decades, having a better understanding of how you can remain active and moving while allowing an injury to heal is vital. That understanding becomes even more important when symptoms are chronic. Certain diseases and injuries may never go away. The best thing you can do is have as much information as possible.
The Real Secret to Long Term Pain Relief
The treatments mentioned above all have their place in healthcare (even doing nothing sometimes has its place). But knowing how to manage your specific injury or symptoms should be the goal with all treatments. When it comes to long term pain relief, managing your pain takes regular self-assessment and adjusting to new activities or symptoms as they happen, and this is something that often takes guidance and patience.
***The above information, including text, images, and all other materials, is provided for educational purposes only, and not as a replacement or supplement to professional medical advice. Please contact a certified healthcare professional or your primary physician for any personal concerns.