Afraid of taking pain medications?
A simple question, should you take a pill to mask your pain, or should you try to fix the underlying cause? It seems like almost every news broadcast these days features a story about a disturbing cluster of drug overdoses, with the word “opioid” prominently featured. So why are these prescription drugs -- which after all, are legal if they were prescribed to the user -- so much in the news these days? And what can you do if you’re torn between not filling your own prescription, versus seeking relief for your very real pain?
Why Opioid Overuse Matters
Both opioid prescription rates and deaths from opioid overdoses have quadrupled in the last two decades. Given these identical statistics, one can’t escape the obvious conclusion: Reliance on painkillers has gotten out of hand, and the consequences can be literally fatal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), doctors now write so many opioid prescriptions each year that it translates to one bottle per adult living in the U.S.Of the 330,000 people who died from drug overdoses in 2015, 50 percent involved prescription painkillers. Just as ominous is the discovery that people who become addicted to prescription opioids are 40 times more likely to become addicted to heroin.
Beyond extreme physical risk, over-reliance on prescription painkillers can have other detrimental effects on your health. Withdrawal symptoms can be harrowing. And while you’re still using them, opioids can lead to depression, which sets up a vicious cycle of self-medicating in order to feel better emotionally as well as physically.
How Physical Therapy Counters the Problem
It’s important to get real about the reason people seek prescription painkillers in the first place -- the pain. These patients are not to be condemned for seeking relief for injuries, arthritis and other degenerative conditions, or for post-surgical discomfort. At the same time, however, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that medications like Percocet, Vicodin, Opana and OxyContin are extremely addictive. Physical therapy, on the other hand, is so effective because it provides a multi-pronged attack to pain relief. First, therapists can help lessen the immediate pain through heat or ice therapy, lasers, as well as low-pulse electronic equipment. Targeted massage and gentle stretching also eases extreme discomfort when tension or stiffness is part of the problem. In addition, physical therapy works to eradicate the actual source of your pain. So, if weak muscles aren’t supporting an aching body part, for example, your therapy will address this underlying cause. Flexibility moves can also contribute to pain relief because stiffening joints often exacerbate discomfort, or lead to over-reliance on nearby, overstressed muscles.