Myth: Taking Opioid Painkillers Will Completely Cure Chronic Pain continued...
"There's a big downside to treatment with opioids," Cohen says. They're not effective with all types of pain. They can cause unpleasant side effects. A physical dependency can develop if pain management and treatment is not monitored. That's not an addiction -- instead, their bodies acclimate to the medication. Over time they need higher doses to get the same level of relief.
Opioids seem to increase the risk that other treatment approaches will fail. There's even evidence that opioids can result in chronic pain, Cohen says. A person with mild, occasional headaches might develop chronic, debilitating ones after using high doses of opioids.
So depending on the cause of chronic pain, opioid painkillers might help. But they're not the universal "best" treatment for chronic pain. They're just one tool among many others, from anti-inflammatory medicines to alternative therapies such as acupuncture.
Fact: There's Rarely a Single Treatment That Will Cure Chronic Pain
"People with chronic pain often have this misconception," Savage says. "They think that they'll be able to find this one perfect treatment that will cure their pain."
Maybe it's a new drug or a new surgical technique that they read about in the paper. Or maybe it's a device or a supplement they see advertised on a 3 a.m. infomercial. But they're hoping that there's one answer for them that will take their pain away completely.
Coping with chronic pain is rarely that simple. Savage says that tackling chronic pain often requires a team of experts using a combination of approaches -- different medications, physical therapy, psychological counseling, relaxation techniques, and more -- to get it the pain control.
Adopt realistic expectations. You will get better, but it will take some hard work, different treatments, and time.
Fact: Even With Good Treatment, Chronic Pain Might Not Go Away
It's unfortunate but true. "Someone who has had ongoing back pain for 18 years shouldn't expect that after few visits to a pain doctor they'll be cured," Cohen says. "Managing chronic pain is usually a long process."
But don't get discouraged. Even if experts can't make your chronic pain disappear completely, treatment can still make a big difference. Pain isn't everything, after all -- it's how your pain affects your quality of life that matters most.
Maybe you'll still have some pain after treatment. But if treatment restores your ability to do things that your chronic pain prevented -- whether it's going for long walks, or crocheting a blanket, or returning to work -- it’s worthwhile.