One in five Americans suffers from chronic pain. And with all the dangers of opioid use, many are looking for alternative treatments that are both safe and effective. Consumer Reports explores the latest research on treating pain.
A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that of the 50 million Americans in pain, 20 million say it’s so severe it limits their ability to work, socialize, or take care of themselves and their family. So what can people do?
There’s no magic bullet. Lasting solutions are usually made up of several different kinds of treatment.
The American College of Physicians recommends trying nondrug measures first. Consider types of exercise that incorporate mindfulness, such as tai chi and yoga. Acupuncture and massage have also been found to help some with chronic back pain and fibromyalgia.
Another option is something called cognitive behavioral therapy. That’s where you work with a therapist on changing how you approach your pain.
Many people trying to avoid prescription pain relievers turn to supplements. But for most supplements, there’s no data to show they work. There’s preliminary research to suggest that cannabidiol, or CBD, the nonpsychoactive compound in the marijuana plant, can reduce inflammation.
Some people try over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen or acetaminophen, or topical pain relievers in a cream or a patch. Prescription drugs used for pain include antidepressants, muscle relaxants, and opioids, which of course come with the risk of addiction and misuse. People can also consider injections. But when nothing else works, the last resort may be surgery.
A congressional report says “for every physician certified in pain care, there are more than 28,500 Americans living with chronic pain.”