For many of us, pain is a fact of life. It’s a common symptom of many chronic conditions, such as arthritis, sciatica, and fibromyalgia. Pain can also linger for years – even decades – after an injury, particularly one to the back, knee, or other joints. Unfortunately, the drugs prescribed to manage pain are highly addictive. They’re also dangerous, causing liver problems, constipation, and more. The alternative pain relief methods shared here are safe, non-invasive, and proven effective to help patients enjoy improved quality of life.
The Dangers of Opioids
What are opioids? They are the pain pills commonly prescribed by doctors. Common opioid brands include OxyContin, Percocet, and Vicodin. They are called “opioids” because they bind to your body’s opioid receptors. These receptors are the pathways by which your body sends pain messages to the brain. The pain pills work by blocking those pain messages. One side effect is that they also induce feelings of calm and euphoria.
Unfortunately, opioids eventually change the way your brain functions so that it can’t produce those good feelings without the drug. This is where the addiction takes hold. And for most, there is no coming back from that addiction, because the changes to the brain are permanent. Most are only able to manage their addiction. This is why avoiding opioids altogether is the safest thing you can do.
In the past few decades, Western medicine has shifted its attitudes toward acupuncture. Most private insurance covers acupuncture, a sure sign that it’s seen as effective.
Acupuncture is used to treat a variety of conditions, but it’s mainly known for pain management, particularly in the West. Researchers believe the treatment blocks pain signals and may release pain-relieving chemicals.
Medicare does not cover acupuncture. However, some Medicare Advantage (MA) plans do.
Cold and Heat
Whether you have pain from an acute injury or chronic condition, applying cold and heat to the area are reliable ways to manage your pain. Ask your doctor about when to use which treatment (not every condition responds well to heat). Treatment should last from 15 to 20 minutes, three to four times per day.
Moderate Physical Activity
Walking, biking, and swimming are terrific moderate aerobic workouts. You already know they’re good for your overall health, but they also help break the pain cycle. This is thanks, in part, to the endorphins your body releases during exercise. Endorphins are your body’s “feel good” hormone. They reduce pain, make you feel happy, and activate your brain’s reward system. In fact, opioids mimic the feeling you get when your body releases endorphins.
Exercise also helps improve physical health, which in turn helps relieve pain for many. If you do not currently exercise, ask your doctor for advice.
Just as acupuncture has become more accepted, chiropractic care has lost much of its stigma. This is particularly true as treatment for lower back pain. And doctors are finally getting the studies they need to prove it. This is thanks to the VA studying the benefits of chiropractic care to treat veterans. The intent was helping veterans avoid opioid use. Vets in the study were less likely to use opioids after receiving chiropractic care.
Medicare covers chiropractic care. Specifically, Part B covers manual manipulation to treat subluxations in the spine. Please note, however, that Medicare does not cover secondary services, such as x-rays and massage therapy. You pay the typical out-of-pocket costs for Medicare Part B: 20 percent of the Medicare-approved amount. The Part B deductible also applies to chiropractic services.
Practicing Yoga or Tai Chi
The gentle movements and stretches performed in yoga and tai chi make them fantastic exercise for everybody, including those with chronic pain. And don’t let the slow pace fool you; these disciplines help you build muscle strength throughout the body. Yoga and tai chi are both prescribed to help manage pain. As an added bonus, tai chi is often recommended to help improve balance. It’s particularly popular for Parkinson’s patients.
Although it feels like an indulgence, massage therapy actually helps relieve pain. A great massage eases tension throughout the body, including muscles and joints. It also helps relieve stress, which often makes pain worse.
Medicare does not cover massage therapy. Expect to pay around $2 per minute (prices vary according to your location). You get substantial savings when you visit a massage therapy school.
Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy
Physical therapists work with you to improve range of motion and strength. Occupational therapists demonstrate ways to perform daily activities without aggravating your pain. Medicare Part B covers both services when they’re deemed medically necessary by your provider. Your out-of-pocket costs are 20 percent of the Medicare-approved amount and the deductible applies.
Techniques like breathing exercises and meditation help you feel more in tune with your body. They also return a feeling of control, something many chronic pain sufferers feel they’ve lost.
SELF offers a comprehensive list of effective mind-body techniques that help improve total wellness, including how to perform them.
Talk to Your Provider
Schedule an appointment with your provider to determine the underlying cause of your chronic pain. He or she can also advise you on dietary changes that may help. For example, foods that are high in refined carbohydrates or sugar often cause inflammation, exacerbating joint pain. At the same time, some foods help reduce inflammation. Your doctor can also advise you on incorporating more physical activity.
If you have questions about your Medicare options, the licensed agents at Medicare Solutions can help. Call us toll-free at 855-350-8101. Or, use our online tool to compare plans in your area.