Rethinking Our Approach To Pain

It’s time to change the way we approach pain. The services of doctors of chiropractic, along with other non-drug forms of pain management, can be an important part of the solution to the opioid epidemic gripping the United States. While medication may be necessary for some patients, there are cases—particularly those involving chronic pain—where a more conservative approach may alleviate pain and even lessen or eliminate the need for prescription painkillers.

A Problem of Epidemic Proportions

Inadequate pain management coupled with the epidemic of prescription opioid overuse and abuse has taken a severe toll on the lives of tens of thousands of people in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as one in four patients who receive prescription opioids long term for non-cancer pain in primary care settings struggles with addiction. Every day, more than 1,000 people are treated in the ER for misusing prescription opioids.

Deaths involving opioids have quadrupled since 1999; in 2014 alone, more than 14,000 people died from overdoses involving the drugs. That same year, another 2 million people abused or were dependent on opioids.

Beyond the risks of addiction and overdose, prescription drugs that numb pain may convince a patient that a musculoskeletal condition is less severe than it is or that it has healed. This misunderstanding can lead to overexertion and a delay in the healing process…or even permanent injury.

The problem of prescription drug overuse and abuse reaches beyond the general population. New research suggests that the rising prevalence of chronic pain and opioid use by U.S. combat military personnel is cause for serious concern. The study, published online as a research letter in JAMA Internal Medicine, is accompanied by an editorial recommending that the goal should be nothing short of a “cultural transformation” in how pain is managed.

Rising Recognition of the Value of Non-Drug Approaches to Pain

There is a growing body of research that validates the effectiveness of chiropractic services, leading many respected health care organizations to recommend chiropractic and its drug-free approach to pain relief. The Journal of the American Medical Association, in a 2013 patient page on low-back pain, suggested patients consider chiropractic treatment before resorting to surgery. In 2015, the Joint Commission, the organization that accredits more than 20,000 health care systems in the U.S. (including every major hospital), recognized the value of non-drug approaches by adding chiropractic to its pain management standard. Most recently, in March 2016, the CDC, in response to the opioid epidemic, released guidelines for prescribing opioids that also promote non-pharmacologic alternatives for the treatment of chronic pain.

Try Chiropractic First

We encourage patients and health care providers to first exhaust conservative forms of pain management, when appropriate, before moving onto riskier, potentially addictive treatments such as opioids.