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Non-Narcotic Options for Pain Relief

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Living with chronic pain is no fun!

Living with chronic pain is no fun!

Living With Chronic Pain

I've been living with pain for years. I have spinal stenosis and foremenal stenosis, severe carpal tunnel in both wrists, a crater in my femur, and no cartilage in my right knee. I also have osteoarthritis in several joints, along with nerve damage.

Fortunately, I don't suffer from terrible pain every day. In fact, some days I have very little pain. On other days, however, I have to turn to pain relief.

Once in a while, the pain is excruciating, leaving me in tears. Because of my ailments, my physician prescribes hydrocodone, tramadol, and Flexeril.

Hydrocodone is a narcotic, an opioid. I worry about taking it, so I take it only when I absolutely have to. It makes me feel so sick that usually, I'd rather have the pain than the extreme nausea. Tramadol is a synthetic narcotic, and my doctor says it's not quite as addictive as hydrocodone. Still, I'm careful with it, too.

Try other pain relief options before reaching for narcotics.

Try other pain relief options before reaching for narcotics.

I Don't Want to Become Addicted to Opioids

I've known people who became addicted to narcotics. In most cases, people became addicted by accident. In other words, they began taking pain pills due to a legitimate reason, like an injury or some other medical condition. They were prescribed opioids like oxycodone or hydrocodone by a doctor, but their use got out of hand.

The way I understand it, when you take significant amounts of narcotic pain drugs for a long period of time, your body gets used to having those drugs, and it needs them to function properly.

In addition, after a while, the amount taken gets to the point where it's not enough. You need more in order to get the same pain relief.

So how can you get off this narcotic merry-go-round without suffering severe pain? Depending on your specific condition and your pain threshold, there might be some ways that will help you reduce your opioid consumption while remaining relatively comfortable.

How I Manage My Pain

My “pain attacks,” as I call them, are usually triggered by inflammation. If I reduce the inflammation, I reduce the pain.

Diet Changes

I discovered that diet has a big impact on my inflammation level. Generally speaking, carbohydrates increase inflammation, so a very low-carb diet usually helps keep my pain manageable.

According to Harvard Medical School (Foods that Fight Inflammation, Harvard Health Publishing, November 16, 2021) foods that cause inflammation include sugar, white bread, fried foods, trans fats, lard, beef, and processed meats.

To be honest, I don't fully agree. Beef doesn't increase my inflammation, but sugar and refined carbs do. I try to eat whole foods, like beef, chicken, pork, eggs, low-carb veggies, and low-carb fruits. If I have pain because of over-exercising, I'll usually fast for a day, and that really seems to help.

According to Harvard, the best anti-inflammatory foods are kale, spinach, collards, berries, oranges, cherries, olive oil, tomatoes, mackerel, sardines, salmon, tuna, almonds, and walnuts.

I find pain relief from a good TENS unit.

I find pain relief from a good TENS unit.

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Safer Pain Relief Options

In addition to changing my diet, I also use other methods of pain relief.

OTC Painkillers

Over-the-counter naproxen has been a lifesaver for me! It works better for nerve pain than hydrocodone does. I'm still careful with it, though, because of its link to heart attack and stroke. I never take more than one in a 24-hour period.

Ice

It might sound counterintuitive, but ice helps, too, by relieving swelling and inflammation. I keep bottles of frozen water on hand, and when my back hurts, I place the bottle between my back and the back of a chair. The pressure helps, too.

Pistol Massager

Something else that helps is a really good pistol massager—a powerful one. The relief is usually temporary, though. I can't convince my husband to stand there holding it 24/7. Manual massage is good, too, but you'll need someone with strong hands to get real relief.

Stretching

Sometimes I can reduce my pain by simply stretching and changing positions. It doesn't always work, but when it does, it's an easy fix.

Physical Therapy

Another option is to use physical therapy. No, you don't have to leave your home. Just find demonstrations on YouTube! Be sure to watch videos from licensed physical therapists, though. Below is a video I use when I have sciatica. Sometimes the exercises help, and sometimes they don't, but there have been a few occasions when they've stopped the pain in its tracks.

Chiropractor

You might also consider seeing a chiropractor. I've gone several times with a pinched nerve, and after manipulation, that pain was completely eliminated. I'd say the success rate is around 50%. It's definitely worth a try.

Acting Quickly

Another thing you need to learn is not to let your pain “get away from you.” In other words, don't wait until you're in severe pain before you try to relieve or reduce it.

TENS Unit

Have you ever tried a TENS unit? I have. My old one was awesome and very powerful. Sadly, it finally died. The replacements haven't been powerful enough to do much good with my pain, but you might find one that helps you.

Water Therapy

Something else that gives me relief is water therapy. I get on a waffle float and float around in my pool. It feels wonderful to my aching joints! Sometimes I stand in front of the return and let that strong jet of water massage my back.

Epidural Injections

Epidural injections are also available for those suffering from certain types of back pain. I've tried them and have had mixed results. The first one I got was very painful and worked for just three days. Out of sheer desperation, I got a second one. It didn't hurt at all, and it worked great for several months.

Explore Pain-Relief Options

Please be careful with narcotic pain relievers! It might be easier to get addicted than you realize, and it could happen quite by accident.

Try some of the options I mentioned before reaching for that bottle of prescription drugs.

There are other options you might want to explore, too, like meditation, relaxation techniques, heat therapy, and acupuncture. I have friends who get pain relief from CBD oil, but I haven't tried that yet.

Just remember to start with the least harmful type of pain relief and add more options, as needed. Everyone is different, of course, so what works for me might not work for you.

It will be in your best interest, however, to find other types of pain relief rather than narcotics. Even if you can't completely eliminate your prescription pain meds, you should be able to reduce the amount you take.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2022 Holle Abee

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