Lower Back Pain Remedies That May Be Preferable To Opioids
Author’s Note: The purpose of this information is not to criticize those who use opioids to treat chronic pain. It is to offer information about other therapies and activities that may decrease pain without fear of dependence. I myself have a lower back injury (compressed disc) and experience low-severe levels of pain depending on the day and what I’m doing.
The Potential Problem With Opioids
Ask yourself – what did people do about pain before there were opioids? While millions suffer from chronic pain for one reason or another, many are wary about using prescription painkillers – they can be very addictive for one, and even deadly if abused. And there’s no question, lower back pain is among the most common complaints.
Indeed, there is a serious prescription opioid and heroin epidemic raging throughout the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2014 over 259 million opioid prescriptions were written. That’s enough to put one bottle of pills in the hands of every adult American. Furthermore, approximately 4 in 5 new heroin users report they began using after becoming addicted to prescription painkillers.
You see, opioids are not actually indicated for the treatment of long-term pain, due to their propensity to produce dependency and tolerance. Dependency results in significant side effects upon withdrawal.
Tolerance results in the need to use increasing amounts of the drug to achieve the same pain-relieving effect. Anyone who takes opioids can encounter these effects, even those with little or no history of substance use.
And finally, opioids are notorious for causing a condition known as hyperalsia (increased sensitivity to pain.) Thus, long-term use of opioids have been known to increase overall pain and discomfort.
Not all treatments will be effective for everyone, or as effective as others. Moreover, sometimes we as patients must experiment ourselves to determine what approaches may help us or are futile.
Some of these lower back pain remedies may seem like common sense, but you might be surprised at how many people never try them.
Opioids help with pain because they attach to receptors in the brain responsible for good feelings and blocking pain. Endorphins are hormones which essentially do the same thing. An appropriate amount of endorphins can reduce anxiety, stress, and depression. All of these symptoms are also associated with increased lower back pain.
Three great ways you can release endorphins are through aerobic exercise, massage therapy, and meditation. Keep in mind, if you have a lower back injury, you may not be able to engage in high-impact exercise, such as running.
This is the case for myself. However, I found that elliptical machines at the gym are much lower impact and can produce a similar effect.
In addition, laughing, having sex, and eating certain foods (i.e. chocolate or something spicy) can also release endorphins and help with pain. It’s amazing how many lower back pain remedies can also be thoroughly enjoyable.
Work Out Your Core
Your abdominal and back muscles are essential to lower spine support. These core muscles often don’t get enough exercise during normal daily activities, and need to be targeted with exercise.
Again, if you have a serious lower back injury, this may not be possible. I use ab machines at the gym, and sometimes I get sore, but generally speaking they do seem to help on a long-term basis. There are, however, many low-impact exercises that are good for beginners or the physically-impaired, such as sitting upright on an exercise ball for 30 minutes per day.
The use of hot and cold compresses may seem like a no-brainer, but then again, many people neglect to use them. Either can reduce inflammation, a condition common to lower back pain.
I personally find heat is better. I use a heating pad (you can pick one up for about $15 or less) and it really does the trick. About 15-20 minutes of use and I often experience a significant reduction in pain.I find it to be among the best lower back pain remedies.
Heat therapy stimulates blood flow, and attracts healing nutrients to the lower back. It also inhibits pain messages in the brain. Even a hot shower or bath can improve matters.
On the flip side, others swear by ice packs, cold compresses, or gel pads.
Use Mental Distraction
A recent study showed that post-surgery patients who were given a virtual reality tool to engage their attention reported lower levels of pain. This fact makes an important statement – we only hurt when we are truly aware of it. Also, how we perceive pain is important to deal with the very concept of it.
Take for instance getting a tattoo. It’s painful, there’s no question. But some people have admitted to getting “addicted” to tattoos because of the endorphin release that occurs in
response to pain. They enjoy having the tattoos and people commenting on them.
Most people with multiple tattoos, over time, hardly remember anything about the pain, let alone avoid future ink.
You can find many ways to distract yourself from pain. Some people listen to music, watch a movie, call someone on the telephone, or engage in enjoyable hobbies. Music works really well for me, as does playing games or listening to podcasts.
If you do not have access to pain medication or would like to cease taking painkillers altogether, there are non-medicinal, lower back pain remedies that may help you to do so.
And even if you feel that opioid therapy is the right choice for you, you can use these activities to further decrease your pain, possibly leading to a reduction (or at least not an increase) in the amount of painkilling medication you are taking.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology