Employee & Community Health

Finding non-opioid options for chronic pain relief

4/23/2018 by Dr. Sarah Crane

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Hardly a day goes by without headlines about the opioid epidemic still raging in the U.S. and studies revealing the drugs' failure to provide effective pain relief. 

  • "ER visits for opioid overdose up 30%, CDC study finds"
  • "West Virginia records 872 overdoses last year"
  • "Opioids no better Rx than Tylenol"
  • "When opioids make pain worse"
  • "Prescription opioids fail rigorous new test for chronic pain"

Health care providers now are strongly discouraged form continuing — or starting — their patients on opioids for chronic pain. We now are helping our patients who are taking opioids for chronic pain transition to other therapies, which studies are finding to be more effective in relieving pain and improving function. 

Treating pain is complex, and taking a holistic approach to each individual patient helps us select the tools that will be the most useful and healthier choices. These tools include:

  • Medications. There are multiple classes of medications that can help patients with chronic pain, but they aren't necessarily pain relievers. These may include medications that help with nerve pain; antidepressants, which have been proven to decrease chronic pain; or cortisone injections. 
  • Non-drug therapies. Pain rehabilitation can involve acupuncture, massage, an exercise program and physical therapy to help patients manage pain in their day-to-day lives and work. Equally important is mental health wellness, with an emphasis on identifying and treating depression, stress and anxiety. 

These options are all part of a discussion that starts with your health care provider and may involve other providers or a center that specializes in pain, such as Mayo Clinic's Pain Rehabilitation Center, which helps people with chronic pain return to a more active lifestyle. 

We know that having this discussion with your provider can be scary and very emotional. But know that we will stick with you through the transition and be there to help you through it. You won't be left to handle this on your own. It won't be easy or necessarily pain free. But in the end, you will have the tools to manage your pain and lead a healthier life. 

Dr. Sarah Crane is the medical director for Employee and Community Health (ECH). She is a physician in ECH's Division of Primary Care Internal Medicine; her areas of practice and interest are internal and geriatric medicine.