Q. I recently started taking painkillers for my bad back. I’ve read all the horror stories in the news about falling prey to addiction. What can I do to not fall into the trap?
Alex E., Framingham, MA
A. This is an excellent question. There are several ways you can support yourself to manage your pain with or without pain medication. At Mountainside, we teach a variety of alternative methods for addressing pain: acupuncture, deep relaxation techniques, Qi Gong, gentle yoga, and yoga for healthy backs, among others. There are four different ways the Mind Body Spirit program approaches the “treatment” of back pain.
- Relieving the physical tension. Physically, many of these approaches are geared towards replacing the tissues with oxygen and nutrients, and reopening energy pathways from healthy movement. Moving meditation (Qi Gong) helps to reopen energy pathways to the back and increase oxygen flow. This type of meditation helps the body process toxins and utilize oxygen better.
- Managing the mental impact. Helping the mind unwind is essential to relieve the inner tension associated with pain. Utilize sitting meditation, prayer, mala beads, and mantras coupled with positive affirmations.
- Managing the underlying emotions. Physical pain in the back can be an expression of inner turmoil according to Dr. John E. Sarno, author of Healing Back Pain. He discusses how the emotions can become turmoil that manifests in back pain. When in pain, you may consider asking yourself, “What am I not expressing emotionally?”
- Strengthening connections to others. Here, we also use a variety of methods to enhance spirituality and reestablish connections to others. When we feel supported by others, we are less likely to have a back that is “full of knots.” Stuck in a hypervigilant state, ready to fight or flight at any moment, we isolate and break away from our support network. We live in a state of tension. Connection to others, communities, purpose, or a higher power can relieve such deep patterns of pain experienced with isolating.
If you must utilize pain medication, there is no reason why you can’t augment medical treatment of pain with the spiritual treatment described above. But there are important things to consider when taking prescribed pain medication.
- It is critical that you have a doctor who understands addiction and the potential for the abuse of pain medication.
- It is important that you are honest with your doctors about any abuse history and your recovery status.
- You should include loved ones, and maybe a sponsor in any discussion with the doctor to develop a plan for taking any pain medication following doctor’s orders carefully.
- It is important to take the lowest dose of medication that addresses the pain and for the shortest duration of time.
- It is of critical importance to be honest, ask for help, and educate yourself about pain medication options, to avoid relapse.
Taking a pain medication does not mean you have relapsed, if you are following doctor’s orders, with appropriate guidance and knowledge.