Holistic Alternatives to Opioids for Pain
While opioids are the standard go-to medication for pain in modern medicine, they simply are not safe for many of us to use. With millions of people recovering from substance use disorders and many millions more at risk for addiction, opioids can present a danger of relapse and addiction – and taking steps to protect your health may mean avoiding using them. If you’re currently using opioids and are addicted or want to get off of them, holistic alternatives can help you to replace medication that is making you suffer.
If you or a loved one is facing surgery, suffering from chronic pain, or have suffered a temporary traumatic accident or injury, you may need a painkiller, either temporarily or for a long period of time, even if you wish to avoid opioids. Seeking out holistic alternatives can help you to reduce your risks, protect your health, and reduce pain so that you can live in comfort.
Importantly this is not medical advice and should not be considered over the advice of your doctor. Discuss your options including any of the holistic alternatives to opioids discussed here with your doctor before beginning use and consider ensuring that your holistic pain treatment is handled under medical supervision to make sure you are getting the care you need.
What is a Holistic Treatment?
Holistic treatments work to treat the cause of the pain and to improve the health of the entire body as well as your immune system response. This is intended to improve your body’s total health over time so that you feel less pain and so that you are impacted by pain less. This is especially important for those suffering from chronic pain but is not always an effective short-term solution for traumatic injury and short-term surgery recovery.
Exercise and Physical Therapy
Not everyone can exercise, but multiple studies show that getting in enough exercise actually reduces pain while increasing your pain tolerance. In fact, exercise works to reduce pain in several ways, by releasing endorphins like dopamine and serotonin in the brain which function as natural pain relievers and relaxing the muscles. In one study patients were able to greatly reduce chronic pain symptoms from disability over a course of 12 months with exercise and in another, patients who exercised regularly for a set period experienced significantly less chronic pain after a study of regular exercise than a control group which did not participate.
What should you do? Talk to your doctor and discuss your options and how it may impact you. Consider low impact exercises like Pilates and yoga or using a cross-machine/elliptical rather than running. It’s also important to start out slow if you’re not accustomed to exercise or you can do more harm than good to your body.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Most people are unaware that pain is deeply linked to emotions and how we process them. Studies show that by training how we process the emotions linked to pain, we can greatly reduce perceived pain and the intensity of pain. In one study, a 12-week course of CBT was enough to greatly reduce pain in fibromyalgia patients. In another, it was shown that CBT is effective at helping even short-term pain patients to handle pain better so that they experienced less pain.
How does it work? Depression, non-physical-specific problems, coping mechanisms, emotions, and the process of rumination or catastrophizing all play into how we feel pain. Cognitive behavioral therapy works to train you to approach pain in a healthy way, which actually works to reduce behaviors and emotions that increase pain. This has led to some hospitals using CBT as a first-line treatment for surgery patients and for institutions like the CDC and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend CBT as a treatment for all types of pain.
Biopsychosocial Pain Management Programs
Biopsychosocial pain management follows the holistic concept that there are many factors playing into how we feel and perceive pain, including physical, mental, emotional, and social. For example, Mayo Clinic runs a biopsychosocial pain management program which focuses on helping individuals to solve their unique reactions to pain to get back to their life.
Most biopsychosocial pain management programs include elements of physical therapy and exercise, socializing, and behavioral therapy – with the goal of helping patients to return to a normal state of living. For example, persons suffering from back pain typically experience stress and the back may tense up, even when they aren’t experiencing pain. This worsens pain over time and may eventually be debilitating. Focusing on the social, psychological, and physical causes of that pain allows a program to teach you how to move forward without causing more harm and without allowing pain to control your life.
While this solution isn’t ideal for those recovering from surgery or otherwise suffering from temporary pain, it is ideal for chronic pain sufferers.
Stress Relief and Management
Stress causes the muscles to tense up, reduces production of pain-relieving endorphins in the brain, and may worsen pain symptoms. Managing stress reverses these symptoms, reducing pain and how you are able to cope with pain.
While it’s natural that anyone will be stressed when in pain, learning stress management techniques such as mindfulness, medication, or any of a number of other therapies can greatly benefit how you handle pain. In one study, it was shown that stress relief also works to release pain-relieving endorphins in the brain, similarly to exercise. However, there is no one-size-fits-all stress relief solution. Consider talking to your doctor about your options and try different things. You may like yoga or meditation, you may find a hobby or aromatherapy more relaxing, or you may like a more intense program like mindfulness. Choose something that works for you.
Building Healthy Habits to Reduce Pain
While healthy habits won’t help much with a healing injury, they will reduce the need for pain management for long-term health problems like arthritis, dysautonomia, fibromyalgia, liver disease, Chron’s disease, and many similar chronic problems. What are healthy habits? Eating a balanced diet, avoiding sugary and too salty foods, avoiding smoking, and avoiding alcohol. Ensuring that you get at least 30 minutes of light to moderate exercise per day can also be greatly beneficial.
If you’re currently using opioids and planning to quit them, make sure you talk to your doctor or a professional first. Some painkillers must be tapered off slowly and you may need medical detox to ensure that you withdraw safely and without severe complications. This is especially important if you have been on painkillers for a significant amount of time, are over the age of 60, or experience strong withdrawal symptoms when attempting to quit on your own. Many people also develop strong mental reliance on opioids over time, and you may not be able to quit permanently without substance abuse treatment.
No matter what your reason for choosing holistic treatment over opioids, there are alternatives and many of them are highly effective. If you’re going into surgery, discuss your options and whether or not you can use a non-addictive painkiller such as NSAIDs instead of opioids and how you can speed up your recovery to decrease pain.
If you’re reliant on opioids for long-term pain relief, consider discussing your options for using holistic methods and then either weaning yourself off opioids or seeking out a drug treatment program to help you integrate fitness and nutrition while learning stress management and taking cognitive behavioral therapy.
Seeking help, either for yourself or for a loved one, is important to protect your loved one. For more information, please contact Beginnings Treatment Centers today and speak with one of our experienced and professional intake advisors, we’re here to help you.