Women using yoga to alleviate pain
Mental Health, Outpatient Therapy

Ditch the Painkillers: Consider an Alternative to Manage Pain

Living with pain is an unfortunate reality for many people. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates one in five Americans have chronic pain which often limits their ability to work or do daily activities. Increasing awareness about alternative therapies that can help control pain, aside from pain medications, is vital, said Ganesh Balu, MD, a Bayhealth doctor who specializes in pain management, physical medicine and rehabilitation, and opiate dependence and addiction. This is particularly true given that reliance on prescription painkillers is a contributing factor in the opioid problem that continues to worsen in our state and nationwide. 

Dr. Balu and his team members recommend a multidisciplinary treatment approach for people who have chronic pain or are struggling with opioid use disorder (OUD). Their integrated and comprehensive pain therapy practice was selected by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) as a “Value in Treatment” program geared to improving healthcare access and outcomes for individuals with OUD and reducing the strain of this medical condition on healthcare systems on a nationwide basis. They also are part of the State of Delaware’s Office-Based Opioid Treatment Fellowship Program (OBOT) which supports the safe use of medications to treat opioid use disorder in outpatient settings. 

“It’s important to look at all the pieces of the puzzle when treating patients with OUD or chronic pain,” said Dr. Balu. “Care that is integrated and holistic is very beneficial, and there are many types of therapies that can help and improve your quality of life.” Here are some non-medication methods to consider for pain relief:

Minimally invasive treatments
There are multiple ways to lessen pain through minimally or non-invasive treatments, said Dr. Balu. These include timely use of various injection therapies—epidurals, nerve blocks and neuromodulation procedures such as spinal cord stimulation. These interventions also work to reduce opiate dependency.

Physical therapy and complementary therapies
Physical therapy and therapeutic exercise have long been recommended by doctors to help treat the sources of many kinds of pain as well as improve mobility and function. Dr. Balu noted that other types of therapies play equally important roles in pain management—chiropractic care, acupuncture, laser, and massage are just a few. While each has unique methodologies and is tailored to a person’s individual needs, they all help reduce tension in the body and stimulate healing. 

Mind and body integration
Dr. Balu emphasized that the mind and body connection is important in addressing our awareness of pain and our body’s responses. Yoga is considered a type of therapy that positively impacts both physical and mental health. Along with gentle stretching that is good for your body, yoga uses breathing and meditation that encourages relaxation, helps release negative energy, and teaches mindfulness which in turn may reduce one’s perception of pain. It’s helpful for someone who’s had an injury or suffers from chronic pain. Since it reduces stress and enhances overall wellbeing it is a lifestyle- enhancing practice for anyone. 

Counseling is another therapeutic way to manage pain. The same parts of the brain are stimulated with emotional and physical pain, so it makes sense that treating both aspects are beneficial. “For anyone dealing with substance abuse or addiction, counseling is a critical step,” Dr. Balu said. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one specific approach and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is another. TMS is an FDA approved treatment for major depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder that has also been shown to be effective in reducing pain in some patients who suffer from depression secondary to chronic pain.

“Any of these interventions, often used in combination with one another, can benefit patients while avoiding the risks of opioid addiction,” he said. “When we take a humanistic and compassionate approach to pain management and patients keep an open mind, there is hope toward keeping pain under control and living a healthier life.”

If you are looking for a specialist to meet your needs, please visit Bayhealth.org/Find-A-Doc or call Bayhealth’s physician referral line available 24/7 at 1-866-BAY-DOCS (229-3627)

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