Tired of trying to medicate your pain with medication?  You are not alone. The American Academy of Pain Medicine reports that in the U.S., more people suffer from chronic pain than from heart disease, cancer and diabetes combined. Low back pain is not only the leading type of chronic pain that people suffer with, but is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. Over the last decade, a significantly increasing amount of painkillers have been prescribed, creating additional issues of drug abuse, addiction and lethal overdose. A recent press release by the CDC reported a five-fold increase of prescription painkiller overdose deaths in women from 1999 to 2010. In 2010, four times as many women died from prescription painkiller overdoses compared to cocaine and heroin overdoses combined. The CDC reported in 2011 that prescription opioid painkillers cause more deaths than all illegal drugs combined.

Many people are under the assumption if they are taking a non-prescription, over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication that it is safe. Every year in the United States more than 100,000 people are hospitalized due to complications from OTC pain medications. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) are linked with 16,500 deaths annually. Don’t assume that just because a medication is OTC or an NSAID makes it safe. These statistics clearly demonstrate that these medications are a serious problem in the United States and can be deadly.

One of the first things you need to consider when dealing with chronic pain is to identify the underlying cause. Sometimes this can be straightforward, such as a serious injury, cancer, an infection or arthritis. For many people that suffer with chronic pain, there was no preceding event or apparent cause leading up to their pain. This can become quite frustrating when trying to relate this pain to your doctor, only to be given a prescription for pain medication. There are some hidden underlying causes of pain to rule in or out which include the following:

  • Emotional Pain At some point in our lives we experience emotional stressors. These may include financial difficulties, loss of a loved one, and/or relationship breakdowns which bring with them a multitude of negative emotions. We all adapt to these situations and emotions differently. For many people, these emotions can trigger a chronic, long-term fight-or-flight response in their nervous system, in turn leading to chronic pain and a multitude of other health problems.

  • Food Sensitivities Food sensitivities are different than food allergies in that they can have a more delayed reaction and be more difficult to detect. Food sensitivities can cause a wide variety of symptoms, including joint pain. One of the most common food sensitivities is to gluten, a protein found in many grains, including wheat.

  • Nutritional Deficiencies We live in a paradox where obesity rates are high, yet people are starving for nutrients. Two of the more common nutrient deficiencies that can cause chronic pain are Vitamin D and magnesium.

  • Side-effect of Medication Some medications can create muscle and joint aches as a side-effect. Some of these medications include those used for hypertension and high cholesterol. Talk with your prescribing doctor or pharmacist if this may be a concern.

  • Poor Sleep Not getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night can weaken your tolerance for pain. Not only that, but it can lead to obesity, diabetes (Type 2), heart disease, cancer and depression.

  • Long-term Use of Painkillers Short-term use of painkillers may bring some immediate relief but a number of studies show that long-term use of these painkillers can backfire and create a hypersensitivity to pain along with increased risk of addiction.

There are a number of safe, natural strategies that you can implement to help improve or resolve your chronic pain. These include:

  • Chiropractic A recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine revealed that chiropractic is more effective for pain relief than medications.

  • Acupuncture Research has proven that acupuncture can be very effective in managing chronic pain, including back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain and headaches.

  • Massage and Physical Therapy These hands-on therapies have proven very effective for various joint and muscle pain.

  • Exercise Regular exercise has been found to be extremely helpful with reducing chronic pain.

  • Dietary Modifications Avoid processed foods which are typically high in refined carbohydrates, additives and preservatives. Reducing or eliminating sugar and grains has also been shown to reduce inflammation in the body. Be sure to replace these with fresh vegetables and high-quality proteins and fats.

  • Herbals and Enzymes Boswellia, Celery Seed, Ginger and Turmeric contain compounds which are anti-inflammatory. Ginger and Turmeric can also be added to your food for an extra boost. Bromelain, an enzyme extracted from pineapple, can be very helpful in breaking down inflammation when used on an empty stomach.