Non-Narcotic Pain Management Alternatives | One Healthy Boston

Pain Management

Non-Narcotic Pain Management Alternatives

Dealing with pain post-injury or after surgery can be a challenge. Opioid medications, often referred to collectively as narcotics, are some of the most common pain relief options. However, they come with some rather serious side effects and can leave patients with severe addiction and withdrawal symptoms. Fortunately, there are plenty of equally-effective treatment options to consider that don’t rely on the use of narcotics.

Opioid Side Effects

Narcotic medications can be highly effective in temporarily relieving pain symptoms, but those effects can come at a grave cost. For some, the side effects associated with long-term opioid use drastically outweigh the short-term benefits.

Some of the most common side effects for opioid use are nausea, drowsiness, itching or rashes over the body, dry mouth and constipation. Longer-term use of narcotic medications can lead to more severe reactions, including respiratory repression, confusion, and even hallucinations.

A condition called opioid-induced hyperalgesia is also a serious risk factor to consider. Hyperalgesia is a heightened response to pain stimuli that results from a patient’s growing tolerance to their medication over time. As they adapt to higher and higher dosages of the medication, the pain-relieving effects they experience weaken. In the worst cases, this pattern can lead to extreme discomfort and devastating dependency or addiction behaviors.

Non-Narcotic Treatment Options

Many believe opioid medications will be a “quick fix” for their pain symptoms, and are therefore wary of non-narcotic options. Financial concerns, anxiety over potential pain symptoms and the emotional wear that recovery often places on the individual are also factors that may prevent someone from considering manual therapies as an alternative.

Regardless, the benefits of non-narcotic pain intervention are tenfold, and these options facilitate natural, lasting healing rather than simply masking pain symptoms temporarily. Here are a few alternative pain management pathways to take into consideration:

Physical Therapy: Restoring the body and rebuilding muscle strength after injury or surgery is perhaps one of the most beneficial approaches to long-term healing. Working with a physical therapist will not only help you manage your immediate symptoms but will ensure that you improve your overall physical health as you do so.

Low-Intensity Exercise:  Many pain symptoms can be lessened with low-impact exercises like swimming or yoga. Allowing the body to move and regain strength without the risk of overexertion will increase blood flow to the affected areas, resulting in added pain relief and expedited recovery.

Therapeutic Massage: The healing capabilities of light touch or concentrated massage are often overlooked. Integrated therapies like these focus on helping patients recover by relieving stress, reducing pain caused by inflammation or immobility and gently managing their pain side effects. These therapies can easily be implemented into existing treatment plans, and are often incredibly effective relief options for cancer, surgical and pre or post-natal patients.

It’s important to remember that opioids aren’t necessarily the enemy. Pain relief aids are a helpful resource for initial pain management, but the goal is always to have a patient transition out of medicinal intervention for their recovery as soon as possible. That’s why it is crucial to monitor opioid use closely and to strike a healthy balance between short term, controlled medicinal intervention and manual therapeutic techniques for addressing pain.

South Shore’s Opioid Task Force

In the Fall of 2015, the communities served by South Shore Health were in the midst of an opioid crisis. Mis-use was not only apparent in the adult population, it was also plaguing local high schools. In the most tragic cases, young lives were being lost to dependency and accidental overdose.

In response, a passionate movement was championed by the incredible awareness and prevention work of local nurse Leslie Stenbeck and physician Michael Ayers. Their work ultimately inspired the creation of South Shore Health’s Opioid Task Force, a team comprised of surgeons, nurses, and physicians across several disciplines, whose collective mission and passion is to save lives by combating opioid misuse on an institutional level.

The task force started by developing guidelines for lowering the number of pills prescribed for pain management and post-op recovery, in order to reduce the amount of excess medication patients would have in their homes after recovery. These guidelines have since been adopted by other disciplines including urology, physiatry, obstetrics and countless surgical specialties. Since their conception, the Opioid Task Force has successfully reduced the rates of over-prescribed opioid medication by 25-56% depending on condition. This success has had a tremendous impact on lowering opioid misuse in surrounding areas, and the task force remains committed to continuing their prevention and awareness efforts as well.

To learn more about the dedication of the Opioid Task Force, or to find additional non-narcotic treatment options and prevention resources available at South Shore Health’s Pain Center, visit

Share this article