Chronic pain — pain that lasts three months or more — can make it hard to go about your daily life. Whether it’s lower back pain or a headache that just won’t quit, you may be surprised to know you might not need pain medication to feel better. According to Lara N. Zador, M.D., a pain management specialist at Henry Ford Health, there are many different pathways to overcoming chronic pain.
“One of the challenges is that people don’t know there are alternatives to pain medications,” Zador says. “Our role in pain management is to connect patients with the options that are best for their unique situation. We often consider non-medication options.”
Four ways to manage chronic pain before taking pain medication include:
- Regular exercise: Exercise may be the last thing on your mind when you’re in pain. But gentle activity can actually help you recover. Exercise in the form of walking, biking or swimming loosens stiff muscles and improves blood flow, both of which speed your body’s natural healing process.
- Integrative medicine techniques: These techniques – which include yoga, tai chi and acupuncture – tap into the mind-body connection. “There is growing evidence that shows that the connection between the mind and body is greater than previously appreciated,” Zador says. Integrative techniques combine the power of breath, movement and mindfulness (the practice of being present in the moment) to relieve pain by calming unhealthy activity in the mind.
- Stress management: There is a strong connection in the brain between stress and pain. Finding healthy ways to cope with the pressures of everyday life can help you gain peace of mind and control of your symptoms.
- Physical therapy: Stretching and strengthening muscles with the help of a physical therapist not only relieves pain, but can prevent it from coming back. Physical therapy can also improve overall muscle functioning, which reduces strain and risk of injury in the long run.
There are a variety of benefits to overcoming chronic pain without medication. For starters, many people enjoy not having to remember to take pills several times a day. Other benefits include avoiding unpleasant side effects that may come with the medication, such as:
- Upset stomach
- Hormone imbalances that can lead to problems like weight gain
- Increased risk of organ damage, including kidney problems
The treatment options that are best for you depend on several factors, including the type of pain you are experiencing and what caused it. In some cases, especially when non-medication treatments aren’t successful, medication is the best option. But it’s often possible to get relief without medication and avoid unpleasant side effects.
“When medications are appropriate, we consider each patient’s lifestyle, overall health and personal preferences toward medication and pain procedures. This combination of factors helps us prescribe the treatments that are likely to help patients achieve long-term relief while avoiding side effects,” Zador says.
If chronic pain has become part of your daily life, learn more about the pain treatments available by talking with a provider specializing in pain management.
Make an appointment by visiting henryford.com or calling 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).
Dr. Lara Zador is an anesthesiologist and pain management specialist who sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and Henry Ford Medical Center – Ford Road in Dearborn.