From celebrities hooked on painkillers to reality shows about rehab -- and those recent Senate hearings in Washington, D.C., investigating pain clinics -- you can't escape the news that prescription pain pills (which are vital to the proper treatment of pain) cause big trouble when used the wrong way. If you're among the 100 million Americans coping with nonstop pain, scary stories about addiction and overdoses probably have left you wondering how best to ease those aches.
Chronic pain following major surgery (hip or knee replacement, for example) often can be managed with local anesthetics, topical NSAIDs and oral NSAIDs (like ibuprofen). They should be prescribed by a pain-management specialist, who, from the start of treatment, establishes a regimen designed to smoothly get you off of or avoid narcotic painkillers. This specialist will focus on easing your pain, promoting healing and protecting you from overdoing it.
For other types of pain -- chronic headaches, nerve pain, backaches, arthritis or muscle and tendon pain -- we're here with good news. There are many non-drug ways to put the brakes on big pain. In many cases, these techniques can slash your discomfort by 20 percent to 60 percent. And for two-thirds of you, they'll make it so you can slash your narcotic pain-pill doses, too. This "combo plan" also can brighten your mood and deepen your sleep.
If you've got pain that won't quit, you can take the upper hand with these four steps:
» No. 1: Hot and cold plus exercise: Physical activity may be the last thing you want to do when something hurts. But for soft tissue problems that trigger lower-back pain, for example, exercise (walking, stretching, maybe swimming) combined with 20 minutes of heat on the tender area at least twice a day pays big dividends, like cutting your need for prescription pain pills by 50 percent and boosting the odds you'll be back to work 50 percent sooner.
Exercise and ice are a good combination for other pain triggers. For arthritis, for example, exercise can focus on strengthening muscles around the joints, relieving pressure. And ice acts as a natural anesthetic and reduces inflammation. Bonus: When ice is removed, blood flow increases, and that carries away bad things that cause inflammation.
» No. 2: Watch your weight. Do extra pounds add to pain? Yep. Not only does every 10 pounds of excess weight put another 30-70 pounds of added pressure on your knees and feet with every step, added weight increases your odds for low-back pain, tension and migraine headaches, fibromyalgia, abdominal pain and chronic widespread pain, not to mention heart disease, cancer, dementia, impotence and skin wrinkling. The good news? Losing weight takes the pressure off.
» No. 3: De-stress daily and meditate. Turning inward for a few quiet minutes relaxes tension (and tension makes pain feel worse). You harness the power of your brain's alpha rhythm, a brain wave that tunes out distractions like pain. Meditation also sharpens memory. Good news, because chronic pain can take a toll on your ability to remember names, dates and where you left the car keys. Progressive muscle relaxation -- tightening and then releasing your muscles slowly from toes to head -- eases joint aches, inflammatory bowel disease, headaches, rheumatoid arthritis pain and even inflammatory bowel disease symptoms. And mini-meditations in which you let go of tension and let pain float away (try it for 10 minutes at a time) can do a lot to make the agony subside.
» No. 4: Use topical pain relievers. These halt pain signals before they reach your brain, so you get relief without pills and pill side effects. (There still can be some side effects if a medicine is absorbed through your skin, so remember to drink plenty of water whether taking pills or applying lotions or creams.) Options include over-the-counter creams and prescription-only patches containing capsaicin (the same compound that gives red peppers their fiery zing), as well as prescription creams containing stronger pain drugs.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Dr. Mike Roizen is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. For more information, go to realage.com.