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The Way We Treat Chronic Pain Just Doesn’t Work

by jenny
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I will go on record as saying that I don’t like how our healthcare system addresses chronic pain. A close relative of mine has been suffering with debilitating back pain for years. All her doctors have offered are prescription medications and physical therapy. They will not do surgery because her pain is the direct result of a previous surgical procedure.

Meanwhile, a close friend of mine recently fell and injured his back a day after undergoing knee replacement surgery. That was just over a month ago. His knee is fine. His big problem now is severe back pain that doesn’t allow him to sit, stand, or lie in one position for more than a few minutes at a time. His doctor will not even return his phone calls.

A Poor History of Treating Pain

Unfortunately, our healthcare system has a poor history of treating pain. For as long as I have been alive, doctors have only offered two solutions to chronic pain: prescription meds and invasive surgeries. Neither is a cure-all for chronic pain. And in fact, millions of people try them without success. What are they to do?

Whenever I speak to my relative or friend, I feel the crushing weight of wishing I could make it stop but knowing I cannot. The most frustrating thing of all is that neither one needs to suffer so much. There are alternatives to prescription opioids and invasive surgeries.

Medical Cannabis for Pain

One of the first alternatives that immediately comes to mind is medical cannabis. The folks at Utahmarijuana.org explain that chronic pain is the number one condition for which people apply for medical cannabis cards. Indeed, it is not even close. In Utah alone, nearly 80% of the state’s valid medical cannabis card holders have reported chronic pain as their qualifying condition.

Western medicine still debates whether medical cannabis alleviates pain. Meanwhile millions of cannabis users swear by it. Personally, I don’t care whether its ability to relieve pain is related to the placebo effect or some legitimate biological function. If people use it because it works, then anyone who needs it should have access to it.

Injection Therapies Are Another Option

I understand that not all chronic pain patients are interested in using medical cannabis. Both my relative and friend are in that position. I do not judge them for that. There are other options – if their doctors would just get on board. Take injection therapies. They can do wonders for pain patients.

One example of an injection therapy is known as radiofrequency neurotomy (ablation). The procedure relies on two electrically charged needles being inserted into the back near the affected nerve. A limited amount of current creates an ablation (lesion) on the affected nerve, thereby blocking pain signals. I know of one person whose pain relief lasted for six months. I know another who went for an entire year before needing the procedure again.

My relative and friend have a big problem: without a referral from their primary care doctors, their insurance plans will not cover radiofrequency neurotomy. So if they want the procedure, they have to pay for it out of pocket. Incidentally, medical cannabis works the same way. Insurance companies do not cover it.

A Better Way

As someone who lives with a major disability, I know that there needs to be a better way to treat chronic pain. My disability doesn’t involve pain. But it does involve alternative treatments that most doctors would not recommend. I am thankful I have access to them. I wish my relative and friend had access to alternative pain treatments.

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