For many people today, irritating low back pain has become a part of their everyday lives. It can make everything from exercising to sitting uncomfortable, and finding relief can seem nearly impossible. This problem is so common that research suggests more than 80 percent of the population will struggle with low back pain at one point in their lives.
Common treatment suggestions for low back pain can vary depending on the individual, but most experts recommend exercises, physical therapy, back supports, electrotherapy (TENS), ice or heat and over-the-counter medications to treat this type of pain.
However, the most commonly prescribed treatments for low back pain are controversial medications known as opioids. This type of strong pain medication has become an increasingly common solution for those dealing with debilitating low back pain. Unfortunately, these medications also come with some serious potential risks. However, before you turn to this solution for your low back issues, it is important to know the facts about opioids so that you can make a smart decision regarding your health.
Opioids, such as oxycodone, have become a very popular solution for those dealing with all types of pain. Why? Because they can change the way that your brain perceives feelings of pain.
Here’s how the opioides work:
1. The opioids attach to the receptors that are found in cells throughout your body.
2. Once they attach, they reduce the release of neurotransmitters. These are chemical messages that communicate feelings of pain between your brain and your body. Ultimately, your brain doesn’t “think” it is feeling as much pain.
3. This process results in “the opioid effect,” which blocks pain, slows down your breathing and has a general calming effect on your body.
Initially, individuals may feel some relief when taking opioids. However, since the opioids only work to “trick” your body and your brain into thinking you aren’t in pain, they won’t fix the issue causing the low back pain. There are no long-term studies on the benefits of using opioids as pain relievers or for those with acute low back pain lasting for more than three months.
According to a recent research review, experts concluded that the most commonly prescribed dosages of opioids were able to provide a small amount of pain relief for those dealing with low back pain. However, prescribing higher doses of opioids did not improve the results, meaning those considering taking more opioids to combat lingering back pain won’t get any more relief.
This is an important note for individuals who are still struggling with pain and discomfort while taking opioids for back pain as this drug can be highly addictive and taking more than the recommended dosage can only increase the chances of dependence.
Potential Side Effects of Opioids
While research is fairly inconclusive when it comes to the actual benefits of opioids, there have been several studies that have revealed the serious side effects of opioid drugs. Common unwanted side effects of these medications can include:
– Confusion/slurred speech
– Fatigue or drowsiness
– Respiratory depression
– Erectile dysfunction
The most serious side effect of opioid treatment has to be the potential for dependency. Opioids can be highly addictive, and when the medication has stopped, individuals taking opioids can struggle with serious withdrawal symptoms including sweating, vomiting, nausea, anxiety and severe abdominal pain.
The serious, and often painful, withdrawal symptoms associated with coming off of opioids is the number one reason many people struggle to stop taking this medication, even if they no longer feel it is helping with their pain management.
How to Safely Transition Off of Opioids
If you are already taking opioids and want to stop taking this medication without withdrawal complications successfully, you should talk to your healthcare professional about slowly coming off your prescription. When you can gradually reduce your dosage, it makes stopping opioid use easier and lessens your chances of experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
Alternatives to Opioid Treatments for Low Back Pain
The good news is there are other non-opioid treatment options available for those dealing with low back pain. These treatment options are typically just as effective in managing pain as opioids and don’t come with the potentially dangerous side effects.
If You Are Dealing With Acute Back Pain
If you are struggling with acute, or short-term back pain, this issue typically resolves quickly and on its own. The more active you can stay, the better. Other safe treatment options can include:
– Physical therapy
– Chiropractic care
– Pain Management Treatments (injections)
– Over-the-counter pain medications
– Back Braces
– TENS and other electrotherapy modalities
– Daily Yoga or stretching exercise
– Applying cold (cryotherapy) to help relieve pain
– Heat application to alleviate muscular aches
– Non-steroid anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen
If You are Dealing With Chronic Back Pain
When your low back pain lasts three months or longer, it is known as chronic back pain. Treatments for are similar to those with acute back pain, but you may need to consult several health professionals to get the relief you are looking for. Unlike acute back pain, sometimes this type of low back pain will not heal on its own. You may need to see a chiropractor, physical therapist, pain management specialist, general practitioner or even an orthopedist to resolve your low back pain.
There are some situations where opioids may be an appropriate solution for those dealing with severe low back pain. However, those interested in finding long-term relief should remember that taking opioids will not fix the cause of their back issues, it will only help them manage the pain for the short-term until they can find a solution. Before taking opioids, or any painkiller, it is important to understand the side effects of these types of treatments, so you can make an educated decision about what is best for you and your health.