WHAT ARE THE BEST WAYS TO RELIEVE PAIN WITHOUT PILLS?
Have you unwittingly become addicted to painkillers?
2018 saw an influx of articles highlighting the number of people battling prescription opioid addiction and concerns were raised by the BBC that doctors in the north of England are prescribing four times as many opioids than those in London.
The US recently declared a war on opioids, with many troubled by how easily some doctors refill potentially addictive prescriptions. Travis Rieder’s 2017 TED Talk is a textbook example of how easily opioid addiction can start (you can find it here).
The UK government recently released figures showing that the number of prescription painkillers has gone up over 20% in the past decade. For some, this has led them to an addiction that can take years to overcome. From Jamie Lee Curtis to Kanye to Ant McPartlin, the news has been full of celebs addicted to painkillers – but so far, no one has stepped in as an “Elton John of the opioid crisis” as sought by the FT’s Gillian Tett back in March.
Some sceptics ask, can you really get addicted to painkillers? In short – yes.
According to Dr Paul McLaren, Medical Director and Adult Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Hayes Grove, “the pathway, from prescribed strong opioid painkillers to illicit use and dependence, is increasingly well trodden,” and it’s now easier than ever to get started.
He says: “I have seen a growing number of teenagers and adults who have been given one medication for a headache or period pain and liked the mildly euphoric opioid effect. They then find themselves drawn back to that feeling at times of stress and, because these drugs are so readily available, tolerance and dependence leads to a rapid increase in the quantity consumed. An important part of treatment is to agree an alternative plan for managing the pain without opioids.”
To help get 2019 off to a healthier start, here is a run-down of the best ways to relieve standard aches and pains – without reaching for the pills.
1. Get back to basics
Seriously basic. Drink water; move about. This may sound trite, but a lot of general sluggishness and mild aches and pains come down to not satisfying basic needs – particularly in the winter months, when it’s tempting to just stay wrapped up inside with Netflix and a good boxset or three.
Even if you don’t feel like doing anything, gentle exercise releases endorphins and can work wonders for the management of chronic pain. Amber, mother of 1, finds exercise is the best way to take her mind off general aches and pains. “It lets me focus on my body in a positive way. I use Fitness Blender, which is full of free online workouts I can do in the privacy of my own home.”
Yogini @hjbullimore uses cat cows to help with her chronic lower back pain, with a few gentle sun salutations thrown in to ease muscle and joint pain.
Swimming, Pilates and yoga are excellent all-over exercises that are easy on the body – although be careful when swimming if you’ve turned your ankle as the pressure of the water can make it feel worse.
2. Give up the glare
Take a break from screens. Headaches, tired eyes, even sore fingers, hands, wrists, shoulders and neck can all be down to excessive screen use so if you feel the burn coming on, try to step away.
If real life dictates that you can’t abandon the glare, make sure you turn down the brightness on your screens especially at work. Make use of the plethora of apps out there designed to convert the harsh blue light into a more soothing orange hue.
F.Lux is a great freebie that can be installed on Windows, Mac or Android to automatically reduce screen glare based on the time of day. In fact, paired with the right kit, you can even use it to control the lights in your home to help you get a better night’s sleep (well, we all need that). Try it here.
For iPhone users, Apple (somewhat controversially) built their own version of this app into their Display & Brightness settings called ‘Night Shift’.
3. Treat yourself to a massage
Or do it yourself. @jules_margo COO of Hot Octopuss, whose company tag line is “reinventing pleasure… one orgasm at a time”, recommends a very particular kind of self-massage as a natural pain reliever…
But for pain relief without the pills, pressing on the right pressure points in the body can be surprisingly effective. Acupressure as it is more commonly known takes its foundation from Traditional Chinese Medicine and works on the principle that there are locations in the body that if activated (pressed) can help the body naturally heal itself.
Popular points include the fleshy bit between your forefinger and thumb to release headaches, the ridge of your nose to soothe sinus pain, and the bit between your ankle bone and Achilles tendon to get rid of neck, shoulder and back pain. Hold for up to 1 minute.
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If you feel like your pain needs some outside help, Osteopathy and Chiropractic therapy are two of the few Complementary and Alternative Medicines recommended on the NHS – probably because “both [professions] are regulated in the same way as conventional medicine”. They each take different approaches, but functionally their goal is long term pain relief without medication. Most private healthcare companies cover up to 10 ‘free’ sessions a year and you can usually self-refer. Alternatively, you can pay for sessions yourself directly, or your GP might be able to refer you via the NHS depending on your symptoms.
4. Get your zen on
Ultimately pain is a different beast to us all, and everyone perceives pain differently – its severity is a function of the mind, which is why doctors use pain charts to help identify how bad we really feel. Given this, sometimes a little mind over matter can make all the difference.
When Katie, mother of one and founder of Memory Zoo, decided to come off prescription pain medication she used visualisation techniques to help manage her symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis. “When I was very unwell and barely able to walk I visualised what it felt like to walk, run, jump and be the most healthy person I could imagine. I didn’t just see it, I felt it with every fibre of my being. I visualised illness flowing out of me and into the Earth or down the plug hole whilst I was in the shower! Then I’d fill my body with healing light. I know it sounds woo-woo and a bit odd but I am certain that it has been fundamental in helping me to achieve wellness after I was told that I probably wouldn’t ever get better. I ran a 10k last summer!”
Visualisation, or ‘Guided Imagery’ is a process of relaxation the aim of which is to help distract the mind from the cycle of pain that it is in. Although it may sound like a shot in the dark, visualisation techniques have even been recommended to help cancer patients and those suffering from arthritis manage their symptoms so it’s worth giving it a go. It works in different ways, but for pain relief the process tends to use breathing techniques to calm the body and then asks you to visualise the source of your pain, working through a series of images to encourage that pain float away. You can practice this by yourself (either following a script or playing a tape), or work with a visualisation therapist – although make sure they are registered with a competent body.
5. Give yourself a break
If like many of us you are battling some form of chronic pain on a daily basis, you will no doubt be aware that a flare up can and will happen at any time. One of the best things you can do is learn the early warning signs and make sure you rest when you need to.
It’s also worth taking the time to talk to your employer to see what occupational health enhancements can be made to your work place to halt the flare ups before they start – for example, if you work in an office getting the right chair or desk height can be critical to keeping your aches and pains at bay (and helping you reduce how many painkillers you take).
As with any type of pain however, it’s important not to suffer in silence – get yourself checked out by a GP if you’re concerned.
If you find yourself asking ‘Am I addicted to painkillers?’ or if you are concerned that someone you know might be addicted to painkillers, it’s important that you seek help as soon as possible. “The key step to recovery is recognition that you have lost control of the drug use and that it has come to control you,” says Dr McLaren.
The symptoms of addiction differ depending on the type of drug used – the Mayo Clinic provides a good overview of the broad differences between opioids, anti-anxiety/sedatives and stimulants which could help you tell if someone is addicted to painkillers.
The NHS website lists bonafide organisations who can provide information, advice and support groups for those affected by drug addiction.
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