Chronic pain is one of the leading causes of disability in the United States. Unlike pain from cutting your finger or pulling a muscle, chronic pain is a debilitating condition in which pain lasts for three months or more. This type of pain impairs function, distorts the nervous system, migrates to other areas of the body, and decreases a person’s overall quality of life. Over the past 15 years, opioid painkillers have been on the front lines of treatment for chronic pain in the United States. Unfortunately, unintentional overdoses have been a consequence of relaxed limitations on prescribing opioids for pain. This number has become so high that overdose deaths outnumber deaths from guns and car accidents combined.
The attention that opioid use has garnered has made physicians and policymakers rethink the practice of treating chronic pain with opioids. It has also brought to the forefront that opioids are not a solution to long-term chronic pain. Not only are opioids highly addictive, but when taken over a long period of time, they may actually make chronic pain worse. This occurs because the brain can increase pain signals to try to override the medication’s block. Once tolerance forms, a higher dose is usually prescribed or a switch to a more potent opiate is needed. Long-term use can also lead to heart problems, endocrine issues, and the many symptoms associated with withdrawal from dependency.
Rise of Chronic Pain
The opioid epidemic has also led doctors to recognize that the prevalence of chronic pain is on the rise. It is unclear if more people are actually in pain or if doctors are just willing to talk to their patients about it. Some theories that might explain an actual rise in numbers are an aging population, an increase in obesity, and chronic pain post-surgery.
With advances in medical treatments, people are living much longer lives, and, right now, we are seeing the baby boomers enter their 70’s. This accounts for a significant population, and many of these individuals are beginning to experience arthritis, spinal pain, obesity, surgical operations, and cancer.
One of the leading factors of chronic pain in obese individuals is heavy weight on the joints and spine. Those who suffer from obesity, as a result, tend to experience pain from arthritis and in the lower back. Obesity is also tied to diabetes where individuals can develop peripheral neuropathy.
Lastly, the problem of post-surgery chronic pain has been recognized recently as being on the rise. Those who suffer from this type of chronic pain usually experience it after relatively minor surgeries, such as a C-section. It is projected that this number will continue to increase as the number of operations continues to increase on a yearly basis.
Taking a Preventative Approach to Chronic Pain
With Americans consuming nearly one-third of the global supply of opioids, it might be time to take a look at a different approach to managing pain. This needs to start with mitigating risk factors and promoting optimum health before things fall apart. An emphasis on a healthy lifestyle such as exercise and improving sleep will go a long way. If there is a need for pain management there are several strategies that can be employed to provide better pain care. This involves moving away from opioid-centric treatments; improving patients’ self-management strategies to include access to care that does not solely depend on prescription medications, and encouraging the evaluation of risks and benefits of pain treatment regimens.
Is Ketamine a Solution for Chronic Pain Management?
Ketamine infusions have rapidly become a top choice for chronic pain management. One of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) essential medications, ketamine has been used as a highly effective analgesic in emergency situations for years. Over the past few decades, researchers have discovered that ketamine causes long-lasting changes in the brain that can minimize chronic pain for up to 11-months at a time. Unlike its opiate counterparts, ketamine is not addictive—and because it is only administered in a clinical environment under close supervision, there is very little risk of this drug getting into the wrong hands.