Safe Solutions: Drug-Free Pain Relief

Natural Treatments for Acute and Chronic Pain
by Shauna J. Douglass, EAMP, L.Ac


The news has been buzzing lately about various painkillers and their associated risks and side-effects.  From the fentanyl-overdose death of beloved singer Prince, to the newly-released study warning that opioid use can actually increase the likelihood of chronic (long-term) pain, it is clear that mainstream healthcare is in need of some alternatives to drugs when it comes to relief from pain.

Opioid Use Can Increase Pain

The study by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder was published last Monday, warning that opioid use can actually prolong pain.  One study author, Dr. Peter Grace, said,

“Our results add weight to the growing body of science suggesting that treatment with opioids such as morphine may in fact be a contributor to people’s chronic pain.”

According to Dr. Linda Watkins, a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder,

“The implications for people taking opioids like morphine, oxycodone and methadone are great, since we show the short-term decision to take such opioids can have devastating consequences of making pain worse and longer lasting.”

Some are trying to focus on the flaws of this study to discredit its validity.  It is important to recognize that this study has its flaws, yes.  At the top of the list: the study was performed on rodents, not humans.  I agree that we cannot draw an exact correlation between rodents and humans, but it’s a great place to start.  Further studies are definitely warranted, but one important takeaway to the first quote above is that bit about the “growing body of science” drawing similar conclusions.

Other Studies Have Similar Conclusions

Opioid-induce hyperalgesia (hyperalgesia definition: abnormal heightened sensitivity to pain) is not a new topic of study and discussion.  A 2011 Comprehensive Review on Opioid-Induced Hyperalgesia (OIH) published in Pain Practitioner concluded:

“As with any therapy, side effects and complications can occur. An exit strategy should exist when utilizing opioids to treat chronic pain because of the potential complications in managing these patients such as opioid dependence, addiction, and abuse. OIH is a less recognized side effect of chronic opioid therapy. However, it is becoming more prevalent as the number of patients receiving opioids for chronic pain increases… OIH should be considered in the differential when opioid therapy fails. Prior to instituting treatment with opioids, OIH should be addressed with patients as part of a comprehensive informed consent/agreement.”

This is an important side-effect to be aware of, as it gives one possible reason for the exponential rise of opioid use among consumers.

Opioid Prescriptions Are On The Rise

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioid prescription sales have nearly quadrupled since 1999, yet there has not been a significant change in the amount of pain Americans report.  Deaths from prescription opioid overdose has also increased at similar rates.  In 2014, 14,000 people died from overdoses involving prescription opioids.  The most common drugs involved were methadone, oxycodone (such as OxyContin), and Hydrocodone (such as Vicodin).

In addition to risks of addiction, abuse, and overdose, and increased sensitivity to pain, opioids come with a long list of common side-effects including: tolerance (needing to take more of the medication for the same pain relief), physical dependence (having withdrawal symptoms upon stopping the medication), constipation, nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, sleepiness, dizziness, confusion, depression, decreased testosterone levels (which can result in lower sex drive, energy and strength), itching, sweating, and hallucinations.

Alternatives To Opioids for Pain Relief

There has got to be a better way to treat pain.  Oh hey–there is!

I’m a licensed acupuncturist practicing in Spokane, Washington, and I know pain.  While acupuncture and East Asian medicine can be used to treat a wide variety of internal conditions (see the WHO report), pain relief is most assuredly our claim to “mainstream” fame, and is the most common thing we treat in our clinics.

Despite the poor study design of most acupuncture studies (I’ll save this topic for another article), a growing body of research is showing the effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of pain.

According to the 2012 study Acupuncture for Chronic Pain published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA),

“Acupuncture is effective for the treatment of chronic pain and is therefore a reasonable referral option.  Significant differences between true and sham acupuncture indicate that acupuncture is more than a placebo.”

The Military Utilizes Acupuncture for Pain Relief

The military is also increasingly utilizing opioid alternatives for pain management in veterans, including the use of acupuncture.  The David Grant Medical Center opened the Anesthesia Pain Clinic this year to provide acute and chronic pain treatment services for military service members, their families and retirees.

Lt. Col. Ronald White, M.D., Anesthesia Pain Clinic chief, said in a statement:

“The patient will receive a comprehensive evaluation, a thorough review of their medical history, a head-to-toe physical exam and a review of pertinent X-rays and MRIs,” Dr. White said. “Then a treatment plan will be developed using a multimodal approach including a vast array of state of the art interventional therapies, nutrition counseling, physical therapy, chiropractic medicine and acupuncture.”

Acupuncture Is A Viable Treatment Option

More and more integrative clinics–providing Western and Eastern treatment options–are opening up as the public demand for acupuncture is increasing.  Private acupuncture clinics are also increasing in number across the country.

While there is a lot of work to do in educating the public on the dangers and risks of opioid pain treatments as well as the effectiveness of acupuncture in pain relief, I have hope that more and more will find relief with drug-free pain relief methods as acupuncture becomes more readily available to Americans.

To Experience This Effective and Natural Remedy for Pain

Give me a call at Lilac City Acupuncture in Spokane, WA:
(509) 535-4055.  I am here to help!

Experience freedom from Pain!

If you reside outside of Spokane and wish to find an acupuncturist in your area, visit the NCCAOM practitioner list to search for a NCCAOM certified practitioner, or give me a call and I can recommend someone from my network of acupuncturists spanning the country.