How Do You Treat Chronic Pain?

Asian Woman Pain
Asian women in pain
Suzanne B. Robotti
Suzanne B. Robotti Executive Director
Last updated:

Chronic pain is a big issue these days. How should you treat pain? Does the doctor take your pain seriously? Are opioids effective for pain relief? And are they worth the risk of addiction? 

HealthyWoman surveyed about 1,000 women who said they had persistent or recurring pain for three months or more to ask them about their pain and what they do about it. Even though one can’t draw conclusions from the study – it’s a survey of people who volunteered to fill out the form online, it’s an indicator and it’s interesting.

Despite the fact that 90% of the women surveyed had received a diagnosis for their pain from their doctor, more than a third felt that their doctor didn’t take their pain seriously and 17% said their HCP was not understanding (time to find a new doc!). 

Nearly all were in enough pain that it affected their ability to live a full and active life. About two-thirds sometimes felt hopeless and/or helpless about the pain. 

Nearly half of the women take opioids for pain. The pain diagnoses included arthritis, migraine, fibromyalgia, autoimmune diseases, pain related to surgery and spinal disc (back). Opioids don’t work on many of those types of pain, and can make the pain worse. MedShadow reported separately that The American Academy of Neurology, the doctors who specialize in pain management, announced that the effectiveness of opioids for chronic non-cancer pain is “modest” and the effect on function “small.” The Academy acknowledged that in some cases the need for immediate pain relief is clear and opioids can have a very short term function. 

When offered opioids for pain relief ask you doctor if there are other options. Your body becomes physically addicted to opioids as early as three days. . 

Many of the women surveyed by HealthyWomen were choosing non-drug options which is the smart way to go according to the Academy. The few studies on long-term pain management that the Academy found, concluded that alternatives to drug therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy and activity coaching are as effective at managing pain and probably better at improving functionality without the side effects and risks of medications. 

The HealthyWomen survey found women obviously use several methods for pain management: 

  • 40% Physiotherapy (movement and exercise) 
  • 35% Herbal therapies 
  • 28% Massage 
  • 25% Hypnosis and Counseling were lumped together (oddly)
  • 18% chiropractic or osteopathy
  • 13% Acupuncture

What drug are women using outside of opioids? Most women that HealthyWomen surveyed seemed to be using more than one method: 

  • 56% are using OTC ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen or acetaminophen. 
  • 60% get prescriptions for pain meds other than opioids. 
  • 20% use weed/marijuana

For more ideas about using non-drug pain relief, check out: Can the Pain Without the Meds: 8 Non-Pharma Therapies