Prescription painkillers are becoming the most common way to treat chronic pain in the U.S. This has led to the opioid epidemic – the increasing prevalence of opioid overuse and addiction that often begins in the doctor’s office. Patients come to their physician for help with pain and leave with a crippling drug dependency that causes more problems than the original disease or diagnosis.
The effects of opioid overuse are not limited to addiction and disruptions in lifestyle either. Many patients report heightened sensitivity to pain after months of drug use. This leaves them not only addicted but in worse pain than they had before.
How does this happen? This article will explore the effects of opioid-induced hyperalgesia (OIH) and how you can prevent it when experiencing chronic pain.
How Opioids Cause You More Pain
Physical pain is transmitted through the body by pain receptors in your central and peripheral nervous system. How opioids reduce this pain is by blocking the nerve receptors and, therefore, blocking any pain signals in the body. This works for as long as the drug is in the system but wears off after several hours when the pain receptors return.
The body responds to the drug by creating even more pain receptors than before, which can again be blocked by opioid use. However, this creates a feedback loop where more and more pain receptors are produced, making the drugs less effective. This leads to a heightened pain response – hyperalgesia – increasing dosages and dependence on the drugs.
Long-term use of opioids can also disrupt our body’s ability to produce endorphins, the natural substance that helps us deal with pain. A lack of endorphins coupled with a heightened pain response can create more intense, challenging to manage, even with opioids. You may start to see your chronic pain symptoms recur or have severe pain from minor accidents such as stubbing your toe or scraping your skin.
Other symptoms of opioid-induced hyperalgesia include:
- Decentralized pain from an injury or accident
- Chronic widespread pain
- Pain that lasts longer than expected
Breaking the Habit
Opioids also halt our tolerance building to pain, but physical and emotional. If someone is using opioids daily, they likely don’t feel any pain at all. Then, when they try to wean themselves off, the pain is much worse than before because their body is not coping with it. It is the same with any other skill – the more you practice, the better you become. If you stop practicing resilience against pain, you lose the ability to fight it.
This does not mean in any way that those in chronic pain should not seek help to stop it. However, opioids are a dangerous solution for long-term pain that can not only worsen it but leave you vulnerable to any disruption in your medication regimen.
Talk to your PPOA clinic about alternative pain options if you want long-lasting relief. We are led by innovation and excellence in pain management and want to help our patients lead healthy, independent lives free of pain.
To learn more about how you can get off the opioids and find long-lasting relief for pain, contact your local PPOA clinic today.