Rethinking Pain Management

In May 2017, the FDA released a health bulletin urging doctors to be aware of nonpharmacologic (drug free) treatments for chronic pain. Specifically chiropractic, acupuncture, and physical therapy. Similarly, the CDC updated their preferred treatment of chronic pain in 2016. They now list the ideal treatment as non-opioid. As much as this seems like common sense, it is a large step in the right direction. Doctors should be encouraged to look for any means of avoiding surgery or long term prescriptions.

For many years the American Medical Association tried to crush chiropractic and ruin the profession as a whole. Now, years later, chiropractic is finally being acknowledged as being at least as effective as prescription drugs and far safer. In 2015, 52,400 Americans died from overdoses. Of these, about 33,000 were from opioids and over 15,000 were by prescription. If you compare this with chiropractors, according to the literature, there is less than 1 death per year attributed to chiropractic care. You are actually six times more likely to get killed by a vending machine than a chiropractor.

Based on statistics, you are about 100,000 times more likely to die from opioid medication as you are from chiropractic care. Despite this, physicians and patients alike tend to view pain medication as a far safer alternative. If you could buy the same Ferrari for $100,000 or $1, which would you choose? Now imagine the $1 Ferrari is going to last longer and have less mechanical errors and breakdowns. The choice seems pretty easy. Yet when you ask doctors or patients who have suffered chronic pain, they feel the safer, less invasive route is prescription medication. Unfortunately, painkillers don’t really solve anything. They aim to dull the sensation until it either goes away or you need more medication. The goal of chiropractic, physical therapy, and acupuncture is to correct the underlying problem so that it doesn’t become a lifelong issue.

Many physicians have a surprisingly small amount of training in pain treatment. Looking at European medical schools, mandatory pain-related classes make up only 0.2% of the curriculum. On top of that, 82% of schools don’t require any pain management related classes. These physicians may graduate with no training in correctly managing long term pain. Considering pain is one of the most common conditions seen in clinics and hospitals, it makes very little sense to devote such a small amount of time towards it.

Unfortunately, the lack of training leads to physicians having little choice other than to prescribe medication for pain-related cases. This has led to a massive addiction and overuse problem. According to the CDC, as many as 25% of Americans receiving long term opioid prescriptions struggle with addiction. On top of that, opioid prescriptions have more than quadrupled since 1999. With the rise in prescribed medication, the death toll has risen as well. Currently, 91 Americans die from opioid overdose each day. Without a doubt it is one of the quickest and most easily abused addictions. Even when taking these medications as prescribed they can lead to withdrawal symptoms.

Almost every medication has a time and a place, but strong painkillers should only be used when absolutely necessary. It has become too easy to go straight to opioids and ignore the underlying problems that come along with them.

Are you struggling with chronic pain? Give us a call.

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