Feeling pain makes you pull your hand off a hot pot before a bad burn or come in from the cold to prevent frostbite. It also tells you when you have a cut, broken bone or eaten something you should have not eaten. We never forget these events because they “hurt!” Your body is very smart and ‘Mother Nature’ has created the nerves that “feel” pain. These special nerves are called ‘pain fibers.’ The real answer is PAIN is the way your brain understands the signals from those nerves. Your brain then stores these memories to stop you from repeating a painful event. So there is always a reason for pain every time you experience it. There is an old joke and it’s true, “It hurts when I do that.” And your doctor says, “So don’t do it.”

Pain has many benefits. It helps the body release special chemicals that are needed for healthy healing. Pain also tells us when we are overdoing it. In addition, pain is an early warning system for most medical complications. Using too much pain medication can override Mother Nature’s messages. Therefore masking pain completely with a drug is never ideal. It can lead to failure of fracture repair, increased swelling, delayed healing and missed complications.

When injured, pain should be addressed by first fixing the reason for the pain: cast the fracture, stitch the cut, fix the bone or start an antibiotic. Then we can use treatments to decrease pain at the source like anti-inflammatories for inflammation, elevation and ice for swelling.  Narcotics are never the only treatment for pain. Medications should never mask pain so completely that your own body’s ways of helping you heal cannot work properly.  A dog never walks on a broken paw until it stops hurting. Only people take possibly addicting medications so they can walk, run, work or drive while having a painful limb.

Still, after an injury or surgery, pain medications are often prescribed. Pain medication can help get people moving after an injury and movement has great benefits. Therefore, we don’t want to have too much pain and at the same time no one wants their doctor to miss the early signs of a preventable complication because of too much medication.

Anxiety, stress, fear, muscle spasm, swelling and not resting or elevating an injured body part can all worsen pain. Fortunately, stress, anxiety and muscle spasm can be treated with non-narcotic medications. For each problem, the full choice of treatments should be considered before increasing or continuing a narcotic in place of solving the real problem.

Whether the patient is an adult or a child, having family or friends become part of the team to deal with pain from an injury or surgery is important. Bring someone along to make the plan with your doctor, and to help stick to the plan once you are home.”

As doctors, our goal is to help ‘Mother Nature’ do her job, not help our patients hurt themselves more. Always choose appropriate treatments over narcotic pain medicine as a first choice and help us stop the National Narcotic Addiction Epidemic! We can only do it together.

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Here are some examples of so called “Opioid” or “narcotic” pain medications:

Morphine, Vicodin (Hydrocodone), Percocet (oxycodone), Codeine, Oxycontin, Dilaudid, Tylenol with codeine and others. Approximately 100 people die in the US per day from overdoses. Not starting these medications when they are not the first choice for a problem is our first step to saving these lives. The USA uses the majority of the world’s oral Narcotic (opioid) medications and we are 5% of the world’s population.

Alan M Reznik, MD, MBA is a member of the AAOS Communications Cabinet and the liaison to the AAOS Patient Safety Committee. He is a sports medicine specialist focusing on knee and shoulder injuries, practicing in the greater New Haven area, and Chief Medical Officer of Connecticut Orthopedic Specialist.

 

4 comments

  1. Chris McDonald Cook

    I liked the article very much. It was informative and I agree that pain medication can become addicting and it would be better to let Mother Nature help with nerve signals and also the healing process from an injury. However, I wonder if this article applies to Seniors who may be experiencing “pain” due to arthritis or situations due to arthritis or other conditions. I really hate hearing “your pain is due to joints, tendons, etc. that are just wearing out due to your age”. I understand the truth about such a diagnosis but I hate not being able to do what I have always done without extreme pain. And I really really hate doctors that say such a thing to a Senior. Please figure something out to help Seniors manage pain with out suggesting that they are using too much medicine and are just going to have to deal with it!

    My remarks are not directed at Dr. Resnik in any way. He’s the best!

  2. Cheryl

    You should mention that mother nature has natural remedies from what the earth grows. There are essential oils that help with pain and inflammation but make sure that you are getting the pure oils, not all oils are made pure. I’m proof that this helps and it’s not addictive and it doesn’t harm other parts of your body like your kidneys or liver.

  3. Bhforman

    Finally found this article. Please respond so I can have your email address?

  4. Pat

    I have chronic pain. Ortho Mt surgeons have helped put the pieces back together. My life has been changed dramatically through mindful meditation, tai chi and breathing techniques taught by a neuropsychological as well as PT and light muscle toning. I practice most of these every day. I am a senior and able to still work as a nurse full time. Helping others is also a great distraction.

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