Pain medication or acupuncture – the next chapter
Last month I wrote about how it’s becoming increasingly important for clinical health practitioners – GPs and consultants – to work with those of us working within the alternative and complementary fields to give patients an option beyond medication.
The point I made in that article was that it’s becoming increasingly common for analgesics to be seen as the first line of defence in treating the causes of pain, rather than being recognised for what they are – a source of temporary relief from pain.
To be clear – painkillers don’t cure pain. They mask it.
In this second instalment of my series of articles about pain and pain medication, and to underline exactly why I believe alternative therapies are a better solution than pills to pain management, I want to highlight the health risks that can be associated with prolonged use of analgesics.
There’s a common myth that suggests the more painkillers you take, the more effective they are. That’s not only wrong, it’s dangerous.
There are many studies that now show the truth about chronic or perpetual use of painkillers, and without exception they show that over time the body builds up an immunity to prescription painkillers to the point where they become ineffective.
That poses two distinct potential issues. First, the scope to relieve pain narrows as you are prescribed progressively stronger medication that will in turn become less effective. Second, the patient enters a pace of vulnerability where, in pursuit of pain relief, they become increasingly dependent on medication.
Don’t be fooled by the old wives’ tale that suggests you can’t become addicted to prescription drugs if you’re taking them in line with the instructions you’ve been given by your doctor. The body has no interest in – or understanding of – what’s written on the box.
There is a third risk associated with continued use of medication for pain, and that is the fact that during the time when it is effective, your body is duped into believing the cause of the pain has been addressed and it can operate normally. And the possible result of that, of course, is exacerbating the injury or condition that is causing the pain in the first place.
In the absence of a specific diagnosis and a clinical treatment strategy that addresses cause rather than symptom (in this case, pain), alternative therapy, such as acupuncture, is a better first step in managing health because its sole aim is to rectify the source of the problem.
If you’re reading this and thinking that so far all the downsides to pain medication are controllable as long as you’re sensible and stick to a common sense approach to taking them, let’s look at what you can’t control.
Drugs are based on a risk-reward calculation. The way in which individual drugs work and target the problem they’re designed to resolve is different from drug to drug and the side-effects that may result from taking them are equally unique.
The way in which that risk-reward is calculated is essentially the purpose of the very stringent trials that all prescription drugs go through before they are allowed to market.
But the fact they’re allowed to market doesn’t mean those drugs are completely safe. If you’ve got medication hanging around the house, take a moment to read the leaflet that came with it and see how long the list of possible side-effects is.
Almost every drug you take has an unwanted impact on your body. The fact the drug you take is on the market is because in the trials it has gone through, the conclusion was that if used in line with the correct medical advice the benefit of taking it outweighs the risk.
All painkillers have an impact on your endocrine and hormonal health. In 99% of cases, where the use of them is short-lived, that impact is negligible. But over the long term? Not so much.
By contrast, acupuncture for pain resolution – note: resolution means solving pain, not relieving it – has no adverse effect on your health. In fact, as an holistic treatment it is beneficial not just in treating the condition that’s causing you pain, but also in treating other issues you may not even be aware of.
Finally, if the medical implications of prolonged use of painkillers hasn’t caused you to take a pause and consider whether drugs are serving your best interests, consider this:
For the duration of the time when you might be taking the really strong painkillers that are often prescribed to deal with serious and chronic problems such as sciatica, for example, your ability to live a normal life will be seriously compromised.
We have seen many people who have spent weeks in a drowsy fug of medication, unable to work, unable to get out of bed and unable to raise the energy or inclination to do the most basic of daily tasks.
There’s nothing wrong with pain medication where there’s also a clear strategy to resolve the issue that is causing your discomfort, but the next time you find yourself sitting in front of your GP and asking for help in managing your pain and he or she suggests painkillers, maybe – just maybe – it’s worth asking for a referral to a complementary therapy like acupuncture instead.
Many GPs now work with acupuncturists and other alternative medicine practitioners.
And if you’re already on a course of painkillers, why not make a private appointment to come and see us and find out how we might be able to get to the bottom of your issue.
If you’d like to find out more about how acupuncture can help resolve your pain, please get in touch – we’d love to help you make an informed decision about the best way to protect your wellbeing.