If you’re currently recovering from an injury, with all the recent publicity there’s been surrounding opioids, I thought I might share some helpful tips on how to avoid using them, or, at least, to limit their use.
I recently underwent surgery and, frankly, I was really surprised at how little information was provided to me about the recovery process.
Having suffered a reaction to a strong painkiller in hospital, I was just told to take anti-inflammatories for a while, but I know plenty of people who have been prescribed opioids for long-term pain. This reflects the broader reports that many patients are prescribed opioids simply due to time constraints in ever-busy doctors' surgeries.
Last month, The Sunday Telegraph revealed that 141 million prescriptions were issued for such drugs last year - a rise from 89 million in 2008.
As part of my research work when advising my clients at Inspired Ergonomics, I’ve recently been studying the brain’s ability to help reduce pain. I found this extremely helpful when assessing and addressing my clients’ (and my own!) recovery processes. The first step was to reduce the need for painkillers.
It is easy to forget that our own bodies are, of course, very capable of producing their own anti-inflammatory chemicals. We can utilise our body's capabilities in enhancing a rapid recovery.
Using anti-inflammatories or other pain killers can actually delay the recovery process long term.
If we medicate for longer than is absolutely necessary, we are actually blocking our body’s and brain’s own healing abilities. Opioids work by attaching to receptors across the body. They block pain messages sent from the source of the pain through the spinal cord to the brain, while also creating feelings of wellbeing and euphoria. However, this also blocks the body’s own anti-inflammatory chemicals and creates dependency.
Indeed, they are deemed unsafe safe and in fact ineffective for chronic pain unrelated to cancer or cancer treatments.
The side-effects of opioid use include:
· Risks of developing a long-term addiction rise after just four days' use, and dosage often increased overtime
· Sleep apnea
· Anxiety or depression
If you want to avoid taking opioids, I found the following alternative tips really helpful. They quickly reduced the hypersensitivity that occurred after my surgery, when even the touch of a sheet was painful:
1. Eat more anti-inflammatory foods: Try leafy vegetables, avocado, turmeric, blueberries, Vitamin C-rich foods. I found an aloe vera drink was very soothing, too. Foods rich in anti-inflammatories and nutrients support our own body’s healing processes, speeding up the recovery rate.
2. Trust in the healing process: Positively visualise recovery. This can in fact help re-programme the brain's expectation of pain and assist in the healing process.
3. Keep moving: Check with your doctor, but generally this involves starting with 10 minutes a day and working slowly back up to your normal activity levels. If you’re like me and when you go back to the gym you find it’s too much, too soon, just slow the pace a bit. Find the level that works for you. It has been found you can get just as much benefit from exercise by spreading the recommended amount throughout the day, if doing it in one go is too much.
4. Seek social support: During the recovery process, it helps if those around you are validating your recovery process and praising your efforts to recover.
5. Explore expert help or support: Depending on the injury, it might be useful to see a physiotherapist or osteopath, to address the pain areas. These professional experts will suggest appropriate exercises and advise on recovery.
6. Focus on breathing: There are lots of breath and visualising exercises you can do that help reduce pain levels. Examples include body-awareness breathing and attentional flexibility.
7. Prioritise posture: Listen to your body and adopt postures that reduce the pain. If it is back-related, then maintaining a good, upright, supported posture will really help.
8. Embrace chair care: If you have an adjustable chair, make maximum use of the options available to see if the different angles of back rest or levels of lumbar support are helpful in easing your discomfort.
9. Cushion the pain: If other areas are affected, such as after abdominal surgery, I recommend strategically placed cushions, which are wonderful in finding a posture that works while the affected area heals.
10. Go stretch!: Try out some stretching classes, such as Yoga, Pilates or Tai chi, depending on your ability and preference.
If you are struggling long-term, there are many pain-management clinics that can help you, so it's worth checking out these options with your doctor, whom – as always – you should consult first. If you are trying to reduce your opioid use, do take medical advice on how to do this slowly and safely.