You know opioids have plenty of downsides, but your back pain isn't going anywhere.
It may feel like you're stuck, but there are alternatives to opioids. These 7 treatments and strategies can help you cut back on—or even eliminate—opioids:
- Consider TENS or similar therapies. These devices use mild electrical current to ease pain in various parts of the body. Widely used in physical therapy and chiropractic care, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) directs current into the skin's surface. Devices for home use—and to wear on-the-go—have mushroomed in recent years. They can get pricey, though, so look for ones with a money-back guarantee and save that receipt. Many people swear by these therapies, but not everyone benefits.
- Take another look at over-the-counter meds. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, and others) or naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn) may be useful as a replacement or to help you limit reliance on opioids. Just keep in mind that over-the-counter doesn't mean harmless, and follow the directions—especially on safe dosages and whether to take the medication with food.
- Ask about other prescription medication. Talk with your doctor about whether a non-opioid medication might be a better option. Medications originally designed for other conditions, such anticonvulsants and antidepressants, may also relieve your back pain.
- Look into spinal cord stimulation. Designed for severe pain, spinal cord stimulation uses electrical stimulation to nerves along the spinal column. Surgery is needed to implant the devices, but no medication is used. A major plus is that you can try this treatment on a temporary basis before committing to it for the long term.
- Pain relief injections. Getting a shot of steroids or an anesthetic into a painful area can ease pain caused by a pinched nerve in the spine or other causes. The relief is generally short-term, but that can make a difference, especially if you want to feel your best at a special event or when friends or family members visit.
- Get moving. Physical activity improves spinal disc health and boosts strength and flexibility, easing pain. Water therapy can be especially appealing if you have limited range of motion on land. If the idea of exercise has you worried you'll hurt yourself, ask your doctor to OK a few sessions with a physical therapist. The physical therapist can teach you the safest, most useful exercises and stretches for improved spine health.
- Tap the power of your mind. You may be surprised at how mind-body approaches can change the way you handle pain. Cognitive therapy teaches people how to use relaxation strategies, coping techniques, and other methods. In biofeedback, the person learns how to control muscle tension, blood pressure, and heart rate to ease symptoms.
Before stopping or cutting back on opioids, talk with your doctor to develop a gradual, medically safe tapering off schedule of the medication. You don't want withdrawal symptoms to be so painful and unpleasant that you give up and go back to taking opioids.