One thing that many people often wonder about is if they can get rid of their pain without being on medications. Medications of course have their place and can be very helpful, but they also have downsides. They can come with side-effects, have a cost to it, can become addictive, and it can add to your busy day because you need to remember to take it. Another downside is if you forget to take your medications for pain control, you would be left with experiencing the worst of your pain. Another thing that people may experience is that they may begin to build a tolerance to pain medications and their pain comes back. What then? So is it possible to get rid of your pain without medications? Definitely.
I myself as an occupational therapist experienced a life changing accident that resulted in significant lower back pain that put me out of work. I was diagnosed with 2 slipped discs and also degenerative disc disease. This all sounded scary to me and I was left with a lot of pain that went on for 2 years. Personally, I tried some pain medications, but I still preferred to get off of them. Thankfully I did not need to resort to some of the heavier opioids and other drugs, but it could have been a possibility if my pain did not improve or even go away. Maybe you have tried these, maybe not. But I can say that as of today, I am almost completely pain-free doing the things that often would have triggered my pain, and I am not taking a single medication for pain. And I am not alone as studies have shown similar results.
Remember my story about the 2 slipped or herniated discs. The degenerative disc disease? Or maybe for yourself. You may have some broken bones, scoliosis, fibromyalgia, or some other scary chronic pain diagnosis. Maybe you got some relief when you got a diagnosis, or maybe it stressed you more out? Maybe you have seen a lot of doctors and gotten a lot of opinions and seen many therapists and tried many things, including medications – but nothing works for your chronic pain.
But studies are beginning to show that learning about pain, also known as pain education, can be an important step to getting rid of your pain and that’s without medications. Why do I think medications do not work? This is just my theory, but I think it’s because humans are complex, especially our brains. We are incredible creatures and every one of us is different. And even after hundreds or thousands of years, there is no single medicine that can help us get rid of all the pain – at least not without serious side effects, addictive properties, or can lead us to accidentally overdose on it. How we perceive pain is from our brain and our brain may likely find ways to tell us we are in pain to alert us of something, maybe even something as common as stress. This is ultimately why I kind of got fed up one day and researched as much as I could about pain and how to get rid of it without taking medications.
As it turns out, our perception of our pain and our perspective of pain can have a big influence on it. Think about people who do incredible things like run marathons. They have a much larger goal and mission to complete, yet they are in pain as they are running or at war or doing something incredible. You likely have exercised and overcome the pain, but felt much better afterwards. It turns out that a lot of people have slipped discs or degenerative discs in their backs. And guess what the incredible thing is? A lot of them are living completely pain-free. So what this means is that just because a scan or a test shows you one thing, it does not mean that you have to necessarily freak out – because lots of people are living their lives completely pain free with the same condition of their body. This is not to completely dismiss your pain. No no no. That’s not what I am saying. Your pain is 100% real and I don’t doubt that one bit. But feeling pain is a common human experience. What I AM saying is that in the case of chronic pain specifically, your body is likely to be okay. You are healing and what you got scanned for a month ago, a year ago – likely has healed or is healing and you are okay. So not freaking out and being scared or anxious or stressed, is one major step in your recovery and to start living your life more pain-free.
Don’t believe me? Well, it worked for me and I was in such debilitating pain that I had to quit my job. I was about 2 years into my accident and nothing seemed to help. My pain did not seem to improve even 1%. Then I learned about how what happened to me is actually quite normal and does not necessarily come with pain. I think that learning about this gave me a lot of relief and studies have shown that even something like stress can be associated with pain. As in stress can even be a pain trigger. From that point on, I started to really find ways to manage my mental health – stressing less, having a different outlook, as I was certainly depressed as well. Accepting my condition and not being so hard on myself or blaming myself or being so stuck on my pain story. This simultaneously allowed me to begin tapering off my medications. And for you it could be prescribed or over the counter. If it is prescribed, I highly recommend that you speak with your doctor before you do so as some medications can have side effects if you go cold turkey, like antidepressants.
So this sounds simple doesn’t it? Just kind of letting go, trusting your body to do its thing and heal, and not to freak whenever you have pain. And that’s the second point. You will get flare-ups on your journey to becoming pain-free from your condition. And the key to all of this and what has worked for me was whenever I had a flare-up, I didn’t freak out, or get anxious, or seek a quick way to get rid of the pain like taking medication or whatever. I kind of just noticed it, accepted it, and not let it take over my life. Of course I tried to find ways to minimize the pain, such as if I was sitting for too long I went and laid down. What has really helped me was whenever I had a flare-up, I breathed slowly and deeply. If you have done yoga, you’ll know what I am talking bout.
Another thing that I did whenever I had a flare-up was to notice what I was doing or what I did leading up to the pain. What was my pain trigger? Was I sitting too long? Bending in a funny way? Was I getting too stressed? Was I overdoing an activity for too long too soon? Because pain is a personal thing, any activity can set off your pain and cause you a flare-up, so keeping a diary or journal of your pain triggers can be very insightful.
And the thing is, you may or may not be in pain at the present moment. Hopefully not, but if you are or whenever your next flare-up happens, try to do these things I just mentioned. Not getting worked up about it. Not stress about it. Just breathe and notice it and let it go away. Maybe you can distract yourself by doing another favorite activity like listening to music, watching a movie, or whatever you like doing. But I am willing to bet that the more you change your perspective about your pain and your “pain story” combined with these simple techniques like breathing and changing your mental outlook, you will likely experience less flare-ups and less intense flare-ups. And the cool thing is that you can start to go off the pain medications too.
But the thing is to be patient with yourself and to go easy on yourself. It won’t happen overnight. But celebrate the small victories, the littlest of activities that you can do without pain – not only focus on the moments when you have pain. And one day, you’ll have less pain days than pain days, then you can begin to taper off your medications. That’s not to say you’ll live completely pain-free – we all experience pain as humans to alert us, but the most worst of your pain that has taken over your life will no longer be that big in your life anymore. Find the things you like to do, things you value, what your goals are and find ways to do those things, even if it’s for a shorter period of time or modified version of it.