The Government of Canada has launched an aggressive campaign against the opioid crisis. More specifically, the campaign seeks to end the stigma surrounding opioid use and abuse. The stigma exists because those who are addicted feel ashamed, and some are indeed being judged by those who don’t understand how it happened to them in the first place.
However, the addiction cannot be attributed to a personal weakness, but more often than not misinformation. Many abusers start the dangerous journey after being prescribed concerning painkillers by physicians and healthcare professionals they trust. And therein lies the problem. With the medical profession being bombarded by pharmaceutical company reps with suitcases filled with cash and pamphlets quoting studies that purport the safety of their pills, a lot of bad intel is being delivered. As a patient, you’re told to trust your healthcare provider. But when they too are being lied to, what chance do you have?
Opioid addicts that have become so after seeking help for pain management are victims of a system gone wrong. And while there is a LOT to consider to end the epidemic, one way to address the problem when it comes to the first line of defense against both acute and chronic pain, is physiotherapy. Let’s review.
Dangers of Opioid Painkillers and Why Physiotherapy is a Far Safer and More Effective Alternative
Blocking Pain Does Not Help Identify Cause
Opioids certainly block pain for many people. However, in doing so that can prevent diagnosis of an underlying physical problem that requires immediate corrective action.
Instead, a physiotherapist will use the pain felt during a given motion to help diagnose an injury to a muscle, tendon, ligament, or tissue. From there, an effective form of treatment can be applied to directly address the concern, repairing the injury naturally through manual therapy, and a variety of other proven methods that use the body’s own movement to correct itself. It may take longer to get rid of the pain, but eventually is will subside. With painkillers, the pain is simply hidden behind the curtain, only to return as soon as it’s drawn back (i.e. prescription is done).
Blocking Pain Increase Risk of Injury
Pain serves a very valuable function. It is the body’s way of telling you to take it easy on a certain body part after an injury. If you’ve been using prescription painkillers to get over an injury, you mask the pain, and then have no real way to tell if you’re ready to get back in action.
For instance, if you have recently sustained and been diagnosed with a Grade 2 muscle tear, you may have taken a couple of weeks off to let it heal, while using prescription painkillers to mitigate the pain and discomfort. Masking the pain, the opioids will have you think everything is fine and dandy, and the next thing you know you’re back on the court, track, or field (or workspace) and purportedly ready to play. With no pain to tell you that your muscle tear has not completely healed, you run a VERY high risk of aggravating the tear, escalating it from Grade 2 to 3, which will ultimately sideline you for much longer than originally necessary.
Again, physiotherapy is a much better alternative. Treatment (manual therapy, chiropractic, laser, etc.) and the dissipating levels of pain to follow will be the gauge for success and your eventual return to form. Of course, you can use OTC medications (i.e. ibuprofen) along the way, but unlike prescription painkillers, they won’t get in the way of identifying progress.
Prescription Painkillers Increase Sensitivity to Pain
Prescription painkillers to manage pain are a temporary “fix” at best. This is because after persistent use, they can actually increase your sensitivity to pain. After a few short weeks of opioids blocking pain, your body responds by increasing the number of pain receptors. When the drugs wear off, you will experience more pain for the next few days. This may cause you to get back on the drug. Then, when you continue to take prescription painkillers, they become less and less effective as the body continues to increase the pain receptor count, until a vicious cycle is created and sends you spiraling out of control.
With physiotherapy, not only is pain-causing injury treated, your body’s natural pain defense known as endorphins (natural opioids!) are allowed to do their good work without losing effectiveness.
That Long List of Side Effects
With prescription painkillers you may be trading one problem (pain) for a big set of others. You know those late night TV commercials for prescription drugs that come with laughable audible “small print” about the possible side effects? Well, they no laughing matter as opioid side effects can indeed be much worse than that pain you’re trying to get rid of. Common opioid side effects include:
- Cognitive impairment
- Indigestion and gastrointestinal complications
- Liver damage
- Nausea and vomiting
- Respiratory depression
- Sexual dysfunction
- Addiction (more on this below)
What about the negative side effects of professional physiotherapy for pain management? None. In fact, physiotherapy can be used to treat some of the same side effects that opioids cause.
An Addiction That Will Destroy Many Lives
Addiction is prescription painkiller public enemy number one. Last year we reported on how opioids are even turning high school athletes into heroin addicts after the prescription well runs dry. Over the last three years there have been a reported 9,000+ opioid related deaths in Canada and even though education about the dangers of painkillers is on the rise, the number is expected to grow, not only because of the prescription availability but because of the black market too. After all, drug dealers go where the addictions are proven. A recent (2019) Angus Reid study finds that one-in-five Canadians state that they have a close friend or family member who has dealt with opioid addiction or dependence. One in five!
The only way to prevent the addiction that comes from this poor pain management solution, is to find one that works naturally. By devoting provincial and federal resources towards both eduction about the benefits of physiotherapy, and the increased provision of physiotherapy in health coverage, opioid use and abuse in pain management will digress.
Before you pop a pill for pain management, consult with a physiotherapist first. It certainly doesn’t hurt to try, whereas going the other route can. If you live in the Greater Vancouver area, contact our Burnaby area clinic on behalf of yourself or a loved one, right away.
If you are someone you know is struggling with opioid addiction, please reference this resource on opioid abuse from the British Columbia Centre on Substance Abuse.