4 Opioid Alternatives For Pain Management

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Posted on July 16, 2018

The Best Opioid Alternatives For Pain

Reading Time: 5 minutes

If you suffer with the debilitating effects of chronic pain, there’s no doubt you’ve explored every treatment available – including opioids. You’re likely here reading this article because you’re looking for opioid alternatives for pain management.

While prescription opioids like oxycodone, codeine, and other medication can offer pain relief, they also come with a with a multitude of negative and potentially damaging side effects.

Moreover, these drugs are notorious for being highly addictive and potentially toxic.

For many people, the side effects and potential dangers associated with these heavy-duty drugs just aren’t worth the risk.

With a lengthy list of harmful side effects and a high risk of addiction or overdose, it’s no wonder a growing number of people are choosing to explore the many opioid alternatives for pain management.

The Dangers Of Opioids

Opioids are effective at controlling pain, but they can also induce feelings of pleasure and euphoria. This “high” feeling can cause addiction to opioid medications, leading to dependence or fatal overdose.

Canada’s growing opioid crisis is having devastating effects on patients across the country. In 2016, nearly 3,000 people died from an opioid overdose.

Beyond the alarming addiction and overdose rates, there’s another compelling reason to avoid these powerful drugs: opioids may not be the most effective treatment for pain.

According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, research suggests opioid drugs may not be much more effective than non-opioid painkillers.

In this study, participants experienced the same levels of pain relief when using opioid drugs or non-opioid pain medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

While opioid drugs did help to reduce pain, they were found to be no more effective than a combination of non-opioid painkillers.

Natural Opioid Alternatives For Pain Management

Luckily, a growing number of healthcare professionals recognize the benefits of taking a multidisciplinary approach to treating acute or chronic pain.

Alternative pain management options are becoming increasingly accessible and more widely accepted.

Natural, drug-free treatments and therapies can complement or even potentially replace the need for powerful prescription drugs like opioids.

If you’re suffering from chronic pain, here are four opioid alternatives you may want to consider for pain management.

1. Cannabis

A report released by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine – which is one of the most comprehensive and up-to-date reports on cannabis research – states there’s substantial evidence that cannabis can be a safe and effective treatment for chronic pain.

Cannabiliol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol THC (the two main compounds found in cannabis) are responsible for its pain-relieving effects.
CBD is the primary non-psychoactive compound in cannabis, while THC is largely responsible for the mind-altering effects associated with recreational cannabis. However, when used in conjunction, CBD helps to reduce the undesirable psychoactive effects of THC.Both THC and CBD are known for their powerful analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. From easing pain to controlling muscle spasms, cannabis has a remarkable number of therapeutic benefits.Medical cannabis can reduce the severity of symptoms and improve the quality of life for patients with a multitude of conditions, including:

  • Chronic pain
  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Insomnia
  • Neurological disorders

Cannabis is also becoming more widely recognized as an effective alternative to opioids for many patients. According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Pain, participants who substituted medical cannabis for opioids experienced the following benefits:

  • Improved quality of life
  • A decreased number of side effects
  • A 64% decrease in opioid use

Another study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found a correlation between lower rates of opioid prescriptions in states that implemented laws allowing access to medical cannabis.

The study’s lead author Hefei Wen, an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky College of Public Health in Lexington, Kentucky stated, “There has been substantive evidence that cannabis can relieve pain at a lower risk of addiction than opioids and with virtually no risk of overdose.”

2. Chiropractic

The ultimate aim of chiropractic is to alleviate pain, improve mobility, and help patients to better manage their condition on a daily basis.

During an adjustment, chiropractors use spinal manipulation to correct joint misalignments or abnormalities. By realigning the spine, these adjustments also improve immune and nervous system function.

The nervous system is a key factor to optimal health and healing. When it isn’t functioning properly, pain and dysfunction can manifest in various parts of the body.

By addressing nervous system function, chiropractic adjustments help to facilitate the body’s natural healing process and decrease inflammation.

As inflammation begins to decrease, pain will start to subside as well.

Many people assume chiropractic is only suitable for treating back pain, but this holistic therapy can be beneficial for a number of conditions, including:

  • Arthritis
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Neck pain
  • Headaches
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Neurological disorders like epilepsy or multiple sclerosis

According to research published in The Spine Journal, treating acute lower back pain with spinal manipulation proved to be more effective than treatment with diclofenac (a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) for study participants.

3. Massage

Massage therapy is more than just relaxation. When used in conjunction with a comprehensive treatment plan, massage therapy can help to improve overall healthy by alleviating pain, boosting the immune system, and reducing stress levels.

This therapeutic technique works by applying pressure and manipulating muscles, ligaments, and tendons to trigger specific physiological changes in the body.

Massage therapy can significantly impact bodily function by reducing inflammation, improving blood circulation, and enhancing the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to the tissues. Much like chiropractic, massage therapy helps to encourage the body’s natural ability to heal.

Massage also promotes the production of natural painkillers such as serotonin, and it’s known to improve deep, restorative sleep – which is paramount for pain sufferers.

A recent study shows the integration of massage therapy can increase a patient’s ability to deal with the challenging physical and psychological aspects of debilitating health conditions. Not only is pain significantly reduced with massage therapy, relaxation, sleep, and recovery are all positively impacted as well.

From osteoarthritis to back pain, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, several conditions can be improved or better managed with massage therapy.

4. Acupuncture

While research around acupuncture is modest, results from a number of studies suggest acupuncture may help ease symptoms associated with chronic pain such as low back pain, neck pain, headaches, and osteoarthritis.

Originating in China, this 2,000-year old technique works to achieve one goal: to activate the body’s own healing mechanism.

Practitioners insert fine, sterile needles into specific acupuncture points of the body to elicit healing results and alleviate pain.

When placed at these meridians, the needles are believed to stimulate the central nervous system and encourage the body to release feel-good hormones and chemicals such as endorphins.

These biochemical changes may stimulate the body’s natural healing abilities and promote physical and emotional well-being.

Acupuncture has also been known to reduce pro-inflammatory markers in the body, which decreases overall inflammation and helps to reduce pain.

While it may not be a standalone treatment, acupuncture can help to facilitate recovery and reduce the severity of symptoms related to chronic pain when included in an integrated treatment approach.

Looking for more information about alternative health treatments?

We’re dedicated to promoting awareness and knowledge around alternative healthcare options for Canadians.

Through education and support, our online resources and membership program services to help you make better-informed decisions about your health.

Contact us or call us toll-free at 1-888-980-9066 to learn more about our membership benefits.

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