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Treating Pain without a Pill

Treatments come in a variety of options. Opioids (oxycodone, hydrocodone, etc.) are often prescribed as treatment for an episode of pain patients are experiencing. If you haven’t been the recipient of these directly, there’s a good chance you know someone who has. They’ve been widely prescribed as they had always been considered both safe and effective. However, in the wake of an opioid epidemic, we want to remind our patients that there are safe and effective treatments that let you avoid the drugs – and without the side effects, That said, there are instances where these types of drugs are appropriate – post surgery or serious injury – and with proper management may be used safely. However, we want to use this platform to highlight our approach to more conservative treatments that can effectively alleviate pain.  

As physical therapists, chiropractors, and massage therapists, we look to provide that first-line treatment for acute and chronic injuries alike – including: manual therapy; joint mobilizations; massage and soft tissue release; targeted therapeutic exercise; and health education. Let’s take a closer look at these distinct areas. 

Joint Manipulation and Mobilization

Manipulation and mobilization are used throughout musculoskeletal health by chiropractors, physical therapists, and some osteopathic doctors. Despite popular belief, the aim of these treatments is not to put a bone back in place. Treatments like this work with the nervous system to affect pain (through release of endorphins), muscle tension (through reduction in pain and thus reduction in spasm), and proprioception (your brain’s sense of your joint position). In my opinion, 95% of cases require exercise to reinforce the effects of the manipulation. In other words, mobilization and manipulation gives your body a window to exercise with less pain so that you can correct the issue at fault and increase muscle tone. However, it does not correct the underlying cause of the pain independently. These are  powerful pain relieving tools that can be employed to aid in your recovery from pain, especially in the spine.

Massage

Generally massage is thought of as a relaxation and stress reducing technique, but it can also be used as a powerful pain relieving and recovery tool. Therapeutic and sports massage are given in order to improve recovery through reduction in muscle tone and improvement in blood flow. Relaxation in muscle tone allows the muscle to receive the adequate nutrition is desperately needs to heal. Think of a muscle as a sponge; when it is squeezed out (overactive) it is not able to receive the water (blood) it needs to function. We see this happen often in cases of back pain associated with sustained postures, and receiving occasional massages would help alleviate this chronic paid in a more effective and cost-effective treatment. Massage also releases endorphins through a healing touch and targeted techniques, which helps to ease pain and creates a relaxing therapeutic environment for the body to heal. Your chiropractor or physical therapist may also use targeted soft tissue techniques to promote healing and pain reduction. 

Therapeutic Exercise

Therapeutic exercise is used widely by physical therapists and chiropractors as well. Movement encourages the body to release endorphins, reduce tissue tension through increased blood flow, promote healing through cellular processes, and prevent chronic pain from fear of movement. Exercise can be used as a means for tissue to adapt and heal to specific stresses it will encounter through daily activities. We use therapeutic exercise not only as a pain relieving mechanism, but also as a way to introduce stress to healing tissues in a controlled manner. If the tissue is not properly loaded over time, it can be substantially weaker than it was prior to the injury causing recurrent injuries. The best example of this phenomenon is chronic ankle sprains. Without proper rehabilitation, ankle sprains are likely to keep occurring as the body is unable to fully heal the tissue prior to sustaining a second, third, or fourth injury. Another common misconception is with arthritis. Many people stop moving because the arthritis is causing too much pain. On the contrary, our joints need to be loaded in order to provide nourishment to the joint surfaces. Without movement, joints can continue to degrade and become more painful. Remember, movement is your friend and is ultimately what will keep you feeling happy and healthy for years to come.  

Education

Education about a particular condition should not be taken for granted. It is the responsibility of your healthcare provider to educate you on your conditions, the treatment options, and expected recovery prognosis. Please don’t hesitate to ask your provider questions – fully understanding your condition is a key element to complete recovery. Education about pain can also be invaluable for the patient, which is why our office strives to provide pain education to help contextualize thoughts and beliefs about pain. Sometimes education is the stepping stone to preventing a patient from progressing to a chronic state of pain. For this reason, our office doesn’t just treat your condition, we help you understand it.

As you can see, there are many alternative treatment options for pain relief – and with far fewer side effects – than prescription drugs. It is important when seeking care for pain, that you explore all options landing on an course of treatment. Second opinions can often be helpful when you are unsure if a certain treatment is right for you. Trying a more conservative option first may save you time and dangerous side-effects from other riskier alternatives. 

Our office uses all of the above techniques, and when necessary, uses other techniques including modalities and dry needling. Our goal is to provide our patients with the most comprehensive, evidence-based treatments to ensure the fastest and most complete recovery path from injury. We ensure that each patient is treated individually, as every patient has different needs from the healthcare system. Still have questions? Give us a call to learn more. We’d love to help you become the strongest version of  your best self!

Bryan Esherick PT, DPT