The Pain in Pain Medication
By Howard VanEs, M.A.
Nobody wants to be in pain. Unfortunately though, the first pain treatment option that most western doctors reach for are pain medications. According to the CDC, the U.S alone some 142,816,781 prescriptions for opioid painkillers were written in 2020. Add the amount of over the counter, illegal drugs, and substances that people use for self-medicating such as alcohol and marijuana and the number of pain killers people reach for is astronomical!
Yes, they can help you relieve pain, however painkillers can also come with a host of very negative side effects including digestive problems, decreased sex drive, kidney disease, liver damage, dizziness, etc. Prescription pain killers are also very addictive and the most abused category of drugs; opioid-related overdose deaths now outnumber overdose deaths from all illicit drugs such as heroin and cocaine combined.
For musculoskeletal issues such as back pain, the problem with pain killers is that they can mask the pain allowing for additional injury to occur and do not address underlying imbalances. Imagine for a moment that what is causing you pain is a pebble in your shoe and you’re given pain medication. You no longer feel the pain of the pebble, but with every step you take you continue to risk further injury. In order to heal, the pebble needs to be removed.
One modality that offers a host of natural ways for dealing with pain is yoga. First, yoga is very good at bringing balance back into the body. One of the major reasons that injury and pain occurs is because of some type of imbalance in your body; something is out of alignment or has been strained. If this imbalance can be addressed and relieved then the body can quickly begin to heal on its own. Applied correctly, yoga postures help your body return to balance by putting the bones, muscles, and organs where they belong thereby improving alignment, flexibility and strength.
When an injury exists, there is a tendency to contract muscles around the site in an effort to protect it. This is often accompanied by stress and anxiety which only heightens your sensitivity to the pain. The breathing practices of Yoga can help you relax which helps you lower your stress levels and relax the constriction around the injured area. The result is that your pain levels are lowered and blood can flow more freely to the injured site.
Meditation is another great tool from yoga for relieving pain. The practice helps to focus the mind, distract it from the pain and like the breathing practices of yoga helps you relax. What’s more, research suggests that meditation can reduce the transmission of pain signals from the thalamus, a major relay center in the brain, to higher brain centers, where pain signals are interpreted. In meditation you also get to observe your thoughts and emotions and begin to see how they may or may not be contributing to your pain.
Of course there are times when pain medications are appropriate and only through consultation with your physician can you make the proper determination as to when to use them. With that being said, remember that there are natural alternatives like yoga that can help you shorten the amount of time you use pain killers, reduce the strength and amount of the medication you use, or eliminate them entirely.
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