by Dr. Dave Gordon, MD
Think about the last time you needed medical advice for an illness or injury. How many treatment options did your doctor offer you?
When I ask people that question, the most common answer is: one. Just one option. And that one option is usually a pharmaceutical treatment. Most people will assume that the physician knows best, so they accept that one pharmaceutical option as an irrefutable fact.
But is a pharmaceutical approach really the only choice?
Although I “never say never” when it comes to medicine, the answer to that last question is almost always: no. When it comes to pain management, I believe pharmaceutical treatments should be one of the last options. There are many other safe and effective options that a patient can pursue before resorting to expensive and potentially unnecessary prescriptions. Unfortunately, if your physician doesn’t know about or believe in non-pharmaceutical options, you’re not going to hear about them.
I want people to know that there’s another way.
And the more you know, the more you can advocate for yourself and your optimal health. Instead of simply accepting the one given pharmaceutical treatment option, arm yourself with the knowledge that there are other options and you are well within your right to make the best choice for yourself.
I want to share with you my own health care experience this past year: I had shoulder surgery.
Surgery is an area where pharmaceutical pain management is extremely common. Sadly, it’s also a very negative turning point for many individuals. In the 2000s, 75% of heroin abusers reported that their first opioid was their own prescription medication. Because of the high levels at which opioid medications are prescribed post-surgery, those clinical encounters are a common starting point for many who go on to struggle with lifelong addiction.
So what is the norm for post-surgical pain management?
Accounting for slight variations in preferences amongst surgeons, the norm for post-surgical pain management is typically Tylenol and/or NSAIDs (Ibuprofen and related medications) taken 3-4 times per day, plus scheduled or as-needed doses of opioids. Physicians use this basic regimen thousands of times per day with little thought about the potential ramifications. While the severe dangers of opioids are finally being discussed in medical communities and with the public at large, Tylenol and NSAIDs are still publicized by most practitioners as nearly harmless with only rare, uncommon side effects.
These “basic” pharmaceuticals are recommended as the first line for pain therapy for just about any and every person from birth to death. What many physicians do not disclose, however, is that NSAIDs and Tylenol can have quite a significant impact on the body and are key contributors to the root causes of most chronic diseases.
Fortunately, I know the dangers of medications that other patients are not told, and wanted a non-pharmaceutical plan following my shoulder surgery. So if I was not taking traditionally prescribed painkillers, how did I handle my post-surgery recovery?
First, I rotated between my bed, bathroom, and kitchen for the first 48 hours. Interestingly, I had read this article just prior to my surgery and thought it was wonderfully insightful.
Next, I used a boat-load of ice to keep pain and swelling to a minimum. I paid $200 for a machine that constantly circulated ice water around my shoulder. I wore it almost continuously for the first two days, and then regularly, including when I slept, for the next several days. Also, I used a maintenance supplement regimen that focused on controlling pain and inflammation:
When I followed that regimen, did I still experience pain? Sure, I had some pain, but it was never intolerable. Since my regimen kept my head clear (something not possible with narcotics), I could tell when I was using my arm too much and that allowed me to ease up and not do further damage to my shoulder.
What’s more, I returned to work within two days. I had no side effects from the treatment. I didn’t once take Tylenol or NSAIDs, and I never even filled the script for Oxycodone.
If you’re thinking my situation was a fluke or I just have an amazing pain tolerance, think again. First, I’m actually a pain-wuss so that’s off the table. Second, my daughter unfortunately needed surgery a few months later, too. I offered her the same regimen I used in lieu of the pharmaceuticals her surgeon recommended, and she accepted my offer.
Guess what? Same results. She used the three maintenance supplements, lots of ice, took zero dangerous pharmaceuticals, and experienced great pain relief. She even had her birthday party two days after her surgery!
But the specifics of my post-op regimen are not the most important part of this post. In fact, you should not take this as a direct recommendation or preferred approach to your pain issues or post-op care. I recommend anyone get guidance from an educated practitioner, prior to starting a therapeutic regimen. The most important takeaway is that every single day, patients are not given this type of natural alternative, or even any other non-pharmaceutical option as the basis of their post-operative (or chronic) pain regimen. Instead, millions of patients out there are cornered into potentially dangerous treatment plans because they don’t know that there’s another way.
I want to teach everyone that there’s another way. And I want to help you learn about the alternatives to pharmaceutical options so you can advocate for yourself, your best treatment options, and a healthier future.