In 2019, 10.1 million people misused prescription opioids, and over 70,000 died from a drug overdose. These numbers portray a problem in the U.S., and many who become addicted to opioids start with a doctor’s prescription to treat chronic pain.
Opioid prescriptions come from a place of care; the medication treats the pain. While prescriptions like these treat a symptom, the pain, they do not correct the cause. To truly treat chronic pain, many patients need a musculoskeletal expert to dig deeper and find the source. They need someone able to alleviate a core issue whose side effect is the pain that just won’t go away. That’s where a chiropractor may be able to help.
Why people start with prescriptions
Pain medication functions by blocking pain messages to the brain. This is its sole purpose, and it’s good at it. Because of this, most people want to address pain with medication, but this process doesn’t work to treat whatever condition is causing the pain. It’s really like putting a band-aid on a broken arm. You’ll still have a lingering issue once the band-aid, aka the medication, wears off.
“Treating pain with medication doesn’t alleviate the cause,” says Dr. Mary Watkins from Watkins Total Healthcare in Gainesville, GA, “but treating the cause may make medications unnecessary.”
What chiropractic care does that pain medications do not
Chiropractic care addresses pain differently than prescription medication. It works to find the underlying issues causing the pain and goes from there.
“Chiropractic care eliminates the cause instead of just treating the symptoms themselves,” says Dr. Watkins.
This is especially important when looking at pain caused by a neuromuscular condition.
For example, a person experiencing head or neck pain, who’s getting frequent headaches will just want the pain to go away. But, according to Dr. Watkins, this pain is your body telling you something else is wrong. By taking pain medication, you’re covering up the message your body is sending, although it won’t stop trying to communicate with you. That’s why treating the cause of the pain is one of the best ways to establish long-lasting relief.
Doctors of chiropractic take a much closer look into the issue to find the cause. Chiropractors specifically pay close attention to the spine in their evaluation. This is because a spinal misalignment can be the cause of all kinds of symptoms, from headaches to muscle pain, numbness to tingling.
“When your spine is misaligned, it won’t function like it’s supposed to,” says Dr. Watkins, “this leads to inflammation and spasms.” It also causes your nerves to not work properly, which leads to pain.
What to expect at an appointment
While pain plays a part in the assessment of your condition, an examination by a chiropractor includes so much more. After a thorough history is taken, including information on past injuries and what’s happening in your life today, the actual exam begins. It can include x-rays, but not always. What you can expect is a check of your joints to assess their range of motion, and a check of your spine for alignment issues.
The doctor of chiropractic then creates a care plan that can help establish long-term benefits without the need for medication.
“Chiropractors do much more than adjust the spine. A lot of what we do is educating patients as to how they got here in the first place,” says Dr. Watkins.
This could mean bringing to light an old high school sports injury that wasn’t properly addressed initially and has led to chronic pain. It could mean highlighting how much impact a bad desk chair can have on posture and spinal alignment.
Care plans may involve a set of at-home exercises to strengthen muscles or a recommended adjustment to something you do every day like how you sit at your desk or what position you sleep in. Coupled with in-office treatments, many patients find they can wean themselves off prescription pain meds until eventually they don’t need them at all.
Find a more permanent solution
Many people using prescription medication as their only treatment for chronic pain go looking for an alternative solution at some point. Maybe the medication is no longer as effective. Maybe some side effects are manifesting. Regardless of what’s motivating you to find a different treatment, chiropractic care is something worth considering.