Chronic Pain

The Tricky Proposition of Managing Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is a big problem around the world. Here in the U.S., it is estimated that some 20% of adults live with high impact chronic pain, which is to say pain that significantly impacts work, social interactions, and self-care. That amounts to about fifty million people. It should not be surprising that pain is the number one reason people visit their doctors or take trips to the hospital emergency department.

Managing chronic pain is as big a problem as pain itself. It is also a tricky proposition. Because chronic pain is defined as pain lasting three months or longer, patients already have a mindset of pain before they begin working with their doctors on long term management.

For all intents and purposes, chronic pain management therapies are divided into three categories:

Traditional treatments

Alternative treatments

Alternative drugs.

For the purposes of this post, alternative drugs are substances like cannabis and psychedelics. They are considered alternative for two reasons. First, they are not traditional prescription drugs. Second, they are still considered illicit under federal law. With that said, let us look at the three treatment categories in more detail.

1. Traditional Treatments

Traditional treatments for chronic pain are those treatments that doctors have been utilizing since the postwar era. They are treatments designed to manage pain associated with degenerative conditions, long-term injuries, cancer, and diseases for which the main symptom is pain. Traditional treatments include:

prescription medications (anti-inflammatory drugs, pain blockers, etc.)

invasive procedures (tissue removal, joint replacement, etc.)

tissue manipulation (physical therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic, etc.).

It is not uncommon for all three strategies to be used simultaneously. Unfortunately, not all patients are adequately helped by traditional strategies. For example, there are plenty of people who undergo joint replacement surgery only to find out that their pain is worse than before.

2. Alternative Treatments

Alternative treatments are treatments that fall outside the scope of the medications, invasive procedures, and tissue manipulation. According to Lone Star Pain Medicine in Weather ford, TX, most alternative treatments are tried only after traditional treatments have failed. Yet there are times when patients go right to alternative treatments.

These treatments include things such as:

Alternative treatments are almost always provided by specialized pain doctors. GPs usually do not get involved because the alternative treatments are highly specialized themselves.

3. Alternative Drugs

Finally, there are those chronic pain patients who do not realize adequate relief through any traditional or alternative treatment. They turn to alternative drugs instead. Medical cannabis is arguably at the top of the list of alternative drugs. In fact, chronic pain is the number one complaint cited by medical cannabis users.

There is some dispute over whether cannabis actually reduces pain. It may very well do that, but it might also offer relief by distracting from pain. In either case, regular medical cannabis users who consume the drug as a pain treatment swear by it.

Along those same lines are psychedelics. Although psychedelics have not been widely accepted to the same extent as medical cannabis, there are a few states looking to expand their medical cannabis programs to include psychedelics. We will have to wait to see how that all turns out.

Unfortunately, there is no single treatment that successfully eliminates all chronic pain. If it were that easy, fifty million Americans would not have to acknowledge that chronic pain impacts their daily lives. Managing their pain is a tricky proposition that often involves a lot of trial and error. Hopefully, medical science will someday change that.

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