By: Leah Hollenberger
I recently listened to an interview on NPR about how doctors are wrestling with helping their patients who are in pain without contributing to the growing levels of opioid-addiction.
It was interesting because they spoke with a physician from Massachusetts who commented that he has changed how he prescribes pain medication. It’s now understood that even a short course of opioids (morphine or Dilaudid for example) for a few days can put some patients at risk for developing drug abuse. Now he tends to try NSAIDs first – ibuprofen or Toradol – and has found them to often be effective for his patients.
The interview finished with him saying “a little pain is going to be necessary,” which the radio host then rephrased as “pain is a part of healing.”
It made me think of Copley’s total joint replacement surgery program, during which it is clearly explained that day two and day three post surgery will be the toughest days. Where each patient signs a narcotic contract that clearly spells out when and how clinicians will prescribe along with when they will not. That, while clinicians will try as much as they can, there will be pain and the goal is to keep each patient’s pain managed in the 1-3 level on a scale of 1-10. So, yes, in this case, pain is part of the healing.
However, I think the radio host did a dis-service by continuing the misconception that everything can be healed, that everyone can be pain free. Certainly, that is true much of the time, but not all of the time. And the truth is, if we as a society are going to really reduce opioid-drug addiction, we are going to have to stop believing that a pill is going to be able to solve everything. We are going to have to expect some pain.
So where does that leave us? As a patient what is our responsibility in managing our pain?
Copley encourages you to:
- Ask your doctor or nurse what to expect regarding pain and pain management
- Discuss pain relief options with your doctors and nurses
- Work with your doctor and nurse to develop a pain management plan
- Ask for pain relief when pain first begins
- Help your doctor and nurse assess your pain
- Tell your doctor or nurse if your pain is not relieved, and
- Tell your doctor or nurse about any worries you have about taking pain medication
Every clinician wants you to be pain-free, but they cannot guarantee it. Accepting that, expecting a little pain, may help you experience a better outcome in the long run.