Safe Ways To Treat Chronic Pain Amidst The Opioid Epidemic

Safe Ways To Treat Chronic Pain
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 Safe Ways To Treat Chronic Pain

For someone suffering from chronic pain, even simple daily tasks can feel like arduous chores. From crushing joint, muscle or bone aches to psychological side effects like depression, it’s no surprise that results from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed nearly 38 percent of adults in the US were prescribed opioids in 2015. But after President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency, alternative treatments for chronic pain may be put into motion sooner rather than later. 

Regardless of the future of opioids, NewGait offers some suggestions for managing chronic pain a safe way. 

Why opioids are dangerous 

Aside from side effects like nausea, confusion, depression, sleepiness, and a decrease in sex drive, those using opioids are at risk for addiction and dosage increase due to tolerance development. Even more alarming, provisional counts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 45,788 people died from opioids over a 12-month period ending in January of 2017. One need not be an addict or abuse the drug to put themselves at risk, which is what makes safer alternatives a more desirable form of treatment. 

Don’t neglect mental health

 Safe Ways To Treat Chronic Pain

The mental side effects are just as taxing as the physical — especially if it’s the patient’s first time experiencing discomfort via illness or injury. Clinical studies showcased evidence that mindfulness meditation can reduce chronic pain by 57 percent — over 90 percent if the participant has previous meditation experience. Remarkably, photos of the brain taken during meditation reflect calmer brain patterns that continue to improve with treatment. It’s because of positive results like these that hospital-affiliated pain clinics can prescribe this type of therapy to help patients cope with mental health in relation to chronic pain. 

Oftentimes, anxiety and depression accompany chronic pain. Fortunately, there are other methods that can help with these side effects and they include psychotherapy, pet therapy, massage, yoga, art and music therapy, yoga, and tai chi. Physical activity may seem like the last thing someone in pain may want to do, but some exercise — even minimal — provides a natural painkiller because the body produces hormones called endorphins that work to increase pain tolerance, while endorphins unite with brain receptors to alter one’s perception of pain.


Find ways to reduce stress and anxiety

Anyone with chronic pain understands that stress and anxiety can often cause flare-ups, which, in turn, make stress and anxiety that much worse. If you find it difficult to clean your house, or the amount of clutter in your living space has gotten out of control, take steps to correct the problem. In addition to bringing in a cleaning service to give your home some TLC, you can also put some of your unused furniture into storage so you’ll have more space — and less clutter. 

There are also some simple steps to take to help mitigate stress found at the workplace, an especially — and unfortunately, common — aspect of the job for those in leadership positions. One strategy is to replicate those who seem to be keeping their heads while others are losing theirs during trying periods. Sit down with them when things are calm and find out what their thought processes are, and be intentional about incorporating the same methods when trouble comes calling.

Try out a natural remedy 

While it may be hard to get used to accepting natural remedies for chronic pain after taking prescription medication, research has proven that there are effective alternatives with virtually no side effects.

While it may be hard to get used to accepting natural remedies for chronic pain after taking prescription medication, research has proven that there are effective alternatives with virtually no side effects. For example, a study conducted by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians revealed that after 75 days of taking fish oil — an anti-inflammatory supplement — more than half of the 125 patients in the study stopped using their prescription painkillers. Turmeric is another anti-inflammatory supplement that has been proven to be effective. 

Researchers found that the resveratrol found in berries and red wine (in moderation) works on a cellular level to regulate pain. On a more traditional level, old-school heat and cold therapies (think hot Epsom salt baths and ice packs) are still used as instantaneous ways to calm inflammation, as well as the mind. 


 Safe Ways To Treat Chronic Pain

No matter what path to relief a patient chooses, it’s helpful if acceptance is incorporated into a chronic pain treatment plan — particularly where mental health is concerned. Finding ways to manage the pain both physically and mentally can create the foundation for navigating this diagnosis and give you a better sense of control. 

Photo credit: Pixabay


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Safe Ways To Treat Chronic Pain

According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Association, as many as 450,000 people in the United States are living with a spinal cord injury (SCI)


Spinal cord injuries are commonly seen in traumatic incidents such as gunshot, motor vehicle accidents, falls, etc. These injuries can result in various symptoms ranging from sensory symptoms such as pain, numbness, tingling, etc., to motor control deficits such as paralysis. To understand spinal cord injury and its management, you should first know the structure and function of the spinal cord.


Spinal Cord – What Is It?


The spinal cord is a structure made up of neurons (cells) that connects your brain to the rest of your body. It lies within the center of your body and is present inside your spine (vertebral column). It is the continuation of your brain and starts from the point where the brain ends (beneath the skull). It then runs down in your spine and transmits signals from the brain to the rest of your body.


So if you want to move your hand to pick up a glass, your brain will generate a motor signal. This signal will travel down the spinal cord and ultimately reach your muscles via nerves originating from your spinal cord. Not only this, but the spinal cord also serves the function of carrying sensory signals to your brain. You can feel pain only when this sensation is conveyed to the brain via sensory nerves to the spinal cord to your brain.


This helps to understand that signal transmission is affected if the spinal cord is damaged, resulting in several sensory and motor symptoms.


What is Spinal Cord Injury?


Any damage to the spinal cord either because of trauma (gunshot, fall, assault, motor vehicle accident) or an infection (meningitis, transverse myelitis) is called Spinal Cord Injury (SCI).

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Here we will focus mainly on traumatic spinal cord injury.


Trauma to the spinal cord can result in a variety of injuries. Spinal cord injuries are divided into several types based on the etiology and location of spinal cord injury.


Brown-Sequard Syndrome


Spinal cord injury (SCI), in which there is an injury to only one-half of the spinal cord, is called Brown Sequard Syndrome.


This injury commonly occurs because of penetration wounds such as gunshot or stab wounds.


Anterior Cord Syndrome


In this type of spinal cord injury, the anterior part of the spinal cord is damaged. This commonly occurs because of hyper-flexion of the spine at the neck that disrupts the blood supply of the anterior region coming from the anterior spinal artery.


Central Cord Syndrome


This is the most common syndrome associated with spinal cord injuries. In this type of spinal cord injury, the central part of the spinal cord is damaged due to hyper-extension of the spine at the neck. It is also associated with congenital narrowing of the spinal canal.


Cauda Equina Syndrome


This injury affects the terminal part of the spinal cord, i.e., Cauda Equina. It results from herniation of lumbar discs (outward movement of discs present between lumbar vertebrae). It can also occur due to traumatic injury in the lower back.


Signs and Symptoms of Spinal Cord Injury


The signs and symptoms of spinal cord injury depend upon the type of injury. Some common symptoms of spinal cord injuries are as follows.


  • Decreased muscles strength (paresis)
  • Paralysis of muscles
  • Sensory disturbances


  • Inability to feel touch and pressure below the site of lesion
  • Inability to feel pain or temperature below the site of lesion


  • Inability to sense the position of the body part in space (proprioception)
  • Problems with urination and defecation
  • Sexual problems
  • Problems with balance and coordination


Management of Spinal Cord Injury


The management of spinal cord injury is divided into the following sections.


  • Immobilization
  • Surgical Management
  • Pharmacological management
  • Physiotherapy Management
  • Orthotics Management


Let’s have a look at each section one by one.



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It is necessary to immobilize the spine if you suspect spinal cord injury due to trauma to your vertebrae/spine. This is important because the injury can get worse if the patient is handled carelessly. Immobilization is achieved by using several braces such as soft and hard collars, Sterno-Occipital Mandibular Immobilization (SOMI) device, Halo vest, etc.


Surgical Management


Surgery is indicated following spinal cord injury to remove any foreign objects or ruptured discs, reduce fractured vertebrae, and decompress the spinal cord. Not all spinal cord injuries require surgical management, and some injuries can be managed non-operatively.


Pharmacological Management


Steroids play an essential role in suppressing secondary events following spinal cord injury and are widely used in SCI management. Several other drugs such as NSAIDs, Gabapentin, antidepressants are also used in SCI management.


Physical Therapy Management

Spinal Cord Injury


Physiotherapy management plays a crucial role during sub-acute and chronic phases of spinal cord injuries. It involves respiratory muscles training (injury at cervical level), muscles strengthening and stretching exercises, balance and coordination exercises, gait training, etc.


It consists of the maximum protection phase, intermediate protection phase, and minimum protection phase. Outcomes of physiotherapy management depend upon the level of spinal cord injury—the higher the level of injury, the poorer the outcomes. Nearly 25% of spinal cord injury patients cannot ambulate independently if the cervical spine is involved.


Orthotics Management


Like the treatments mentioned above, orthotics management plays a vital role in managing spinal cord injury in acute, sub-acute, and chronic phases of recovery.


Orthoses help stabilize the spine so that the healing is not affected by unnecessary spine movements. They also provide support to the body that helps in functional rehabilitation.


Individuals with spinal cord injury at the cervical (neck) level are instructed to wear a halo brace that immobilizes the neck region. For managing the injuries involving the neck and upper back, cervical-thoracic orthosis (CTO) is recommended. Similarly, Thoraco-Lumbar-Sacral Orthosis (TLSO) covers your whole back.


Lower limb orthoses such as Knee-Ankle-Foot Orthosis (KAFO) or Hip-Knee-Ankle-Foot Orthosis (HKAFO) are also used for assisting in ambulation following spinal cord injuries.


No matter which level is involved, spinal cord injury management is always multi-disciplinary and involves several healthcare professionals. Early detection of an injury is always a key to achieving better outcomes.


Motion – Mind, Body, and Spirit

Mind-Body Connection

Movement or motion is crucial for our body, no matter what we are going through. The movement puts your mind at peace and along with that, it keeps your body healthy. 

  • If you can run, you should run. 
  • If you are not able to run, you should walk. 
  • If you cannot walk on your own, use assistive devices but walk. 

Our brain controls the movement we do. If our brain is not functioning well, the movement gets a bit difficult.

The brain is the control center and is connected to our body parts. So whenever you move, a signal is generated from your brain that travels down to your body.

What is Mind?

We usually hear the two words, brain and mind, and are used synonymously. But they are different from each other. So what exactly is the difference between these two?

The difference between the brain and mind can become clear quickly if you know about computers and windows. The computer is hardware, and windows is the software that operates the computer.

Mind-Body Connection

The brain is a matter present in our skull, and the mind is the operating system that controls this piece of matter. In other words, our brain is the computer, and the mind is the software that runs it.

The mind consists of mental states such as thoughts, emotions, beliefs, and attitudes, and the brain allows us to experience these mental states.

Why is Mind-Body Connection Important?

Like computers or mobile phones having different software operate differently, the same thing applies to our mind-body connection.

We all have a brain, but our minds are different. Our emotions are different, and every one of us responds differently to different situations around us.

That’s why having a sad mood or depression can result in lethargic feelings in your body. Though depression and your muscles do not directly connect, depression affects the mind and mind, influences your brain, and feels symptoms in your body.

The same thing happens when you are in a good mood. You feel a tremendous amount of energy in your body, and you have no idea where it is coming from. It is your mind that is sending indirect signals to your body.

Tips for improving Mind-Body Connection

As mentioned before, maintaining your mind and body connection is crucial for your overall health. That’s why you must be familiar with the ways that improve your mind and body connection.

Mind-Body Connection

Here are few tips for you.

  • Keep your body well hydrated, as lack of water in your body can affect your concentration.
  • Perform deep breathing exercises in a calm and peaceful environment.
  • Perform regular stretching exercises as stretching sends signals to your body that help improve your mind and body connection.
  • Take a break from your busy routine and do things that you enjoy doing.

All of these tips affect your mental well-being and hence improve your mind and body connection.