Chronic pain is a significant health care concern. For those dealing with constant pain, it can affect their sense of wellbeing, ability to work and participate in their regular activities, and even deter their ability to enjoy life and pursue their goals and dreams.
Over one third of adults in the U.S. are battling continuous, nagging knee pain, shoulder pain or hip pain according to The Pain Project, an online support community and non-cancer pain information resource affiliated with the University of California, Davis. They estimate that roughly 100 million adults in the U.S. are facing this daily battle – that’s more than heart disease, cancer and diabetes combined.
While intending to provide pain relief so that patients could return to their normal activities, the extensive use of opioids has led to yet another healthcare crisis of addiction. The reality is that 80% of heroin addicts began with prescription pain killers. Additionally, 68% of the over 70,000 overdose deaths in 2017 involved prescription or illicit opioids.
As leaders in government, health care, law enforcement and other groups invested in finding a solution, more Americans are seeking non-drug treatments first for pain. The 2018 Gallup-Palmer College of Chiropractic annual report revealed that 79% of Americans prefer other methods of pain relief before taking a prescription pain reliever. Among these non-pharmaceutical pain relief options, there has been increasing attention given to the safety and effectiveness of chiropractic care.
One such systematic review and meta-analysis recently published in Pain Medicine, evaluated the usage of opioids for patients who did and did not receive chiropractic care. The research review looked at six previously published studies that included over 62,000 study participants with a rate of chiropractic utilization ranging from 11% – 51% for the individual studies. They were reevaluated and assessed by a research team that included 2 MDs and 2 DCs.
Lead author, Kelsey Corcoran, DC of Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut states:
Patients with spinal pain who visit a chiropractor may receive treatments such as spinal manipulation, massage, acupuncture, exercises and education as appropriate… These therapies may lead to decreased pain, improved range of motion and increased function… If a patient’s pain is well controlled by the treatment they received from a chiropractor, they may subsequently need less pain medications or even none at all.
The Pain Medicine study bore that to be true. Indeed, research analysis revealed that patients who receive chiropractic care have a 64% LOWER likelihood of receiving an opioid prescription. When you consider that 4 of the 6 studies involved patients who either saw a chiropractor prior to another health care provider, or for whom chiropractic was part of an initial treatment plan, it can be inferred that chiropractic care at the start of treatment can lower the need for opioids and therefore, reduce the risk of addiction.
When speaking on the topic of alternatives to opioids for pain treatment, Dan Cherkin, an emeritus senior scientific investigator at Kaiser Permanente Health Research Institute in Seattle, Washington stated:
In general, I think that patients wishing to avoid prescription medication (especially opioid) would do well to seek care from providers who can provide potentially helpful alternatives to opioid treatments – this could include chiropractors, physical therapists, massage therapists, pain psychologists, yoga instructors, and mindfulness-based stress reduction classes, etc.
Both the American College of Physicians and the World Health Organization have issued recommendations that patients experiencing musculoskeletal pain receive conservative care first, such as spinal manipulation as performed by doctors of chiropractic, before opioids and surgery.
Christine Goertz, a researcher at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, also commented on this recent study:
Treatments provided by a doctor of chiropractic, such as spinal manipulation, may decrease pain from muscle strain, inflammation and spasm in the back muscles and/or impact the way that the body perceives pain through either the brain or the spinal cord … Patients who find effective ways to treat their pain, such as chiropractic care, may be less likely to turn to opioids. …The current study indicates that patients who follow these recommendations are, in fact, less likely to receive an opioid prescription.
The world-renowned poet and author, Maya Angelou, once said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
For decades, providers issued an opioid prescription as the common first approach for addressing pain unaware of the devastating and dangerous effects of these drugs. Now, as the research community continues to demonstrate the benefits of chiropractic care, more and more, the health care paradigm for patients in pain is recognizing the vital role chiropractic plays in providing a non-drug pathway to pain relief.
There are circumstances where pain medications, and even opioids are the best option for a patient. However, we now know that they can carry significant risks and should not be doled out as a “go-to” medication for every patient who has pain.
By seeking chiropractic care first, many patients may receive the pain control they need, without ever having to risk taking an opioid medication. Others, may still need medications, but benefit by being able to take a less potent medication or a smaller dose than if utilizing a medication only approach. This not only lowers the risk of addiction, but it’s also easier on the body’s organs which process the medications.
If you or a loved one is dealing with chronic pain, schedule an appointment to talk to your local doctor of chiropractic about how you could benefit from this effective, non-drug treatment for your pain. If you don’t have a chiropractor, you can find one here.
“What is Chronic Pain?” The PAIN Project. https://www.thepainproject.com/what-is-chronic-pain/. Accessed 11/12/19.
Rapaport L. “Chiropractic care for back pain tied to lower odds of opioid use”. Reuters Health. October 24, 2019.
Corcoran KL, Bastian LA, Gunderson CG, Steffens C, Brackett A, Lisi AJ. “Association Between Chiropractic Use and Opioid Receipt Among Patients with Spinal Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis”. Pain Medicine (pnz219). https://doi.org/10.1093/pm/pnz219
“September is Drug-Free Pain Management Awareness Month”. https://www.f4cp.org/september-is-drug-free-pain-management-awareness-month/ Accessed 11/12/19.
The 2018 Gallup-Palmer College of Chiropractic Annual Report. http://www.palmer.edu/alumni/research-publications/gallup-report/managing-neck-and-back-pain-in-america/.