According to a recent review, an estimated 43% of the UK general population live with chronic pain. That’s around 28 million people. What’s more, chronic pain may affect up to 62% of people aged 75 or over. Yet, the research shows that more than 20% of people with moderate to severe pain may not get adequate pain relief from their medication.
Chronic pain interferes with daily life, yet doctors may be reluctant to prescribe strong painkillers for non-cancer pain such as low back pain or osteoarthritis. With good reason, since super-strength painkillers such as opioid medications can be highly addictive. As reported by the BBC.
Not only that, but opioid medication such as tramadol, fentanyl and morphine have some other nasty side effects. Patients commonly report constipation, itching, nausea or vomiting, dizziness, breathing difficulties, headache, low energy or muscle twitches while taking these medicines. So, doctors must consider a benefit to harm ratio and minimise any risks to their patients.
However, patients with persistent, moderate to severe pain often find that weaker painkillers such as paracetamol (acetaminophen), or NSAIDs such as ibuprofen and naproxen are just not adequate. In fact, it is also true that the super-strength painkillers may also not be effective for some types of pain.
We also know it can be risky for some older people, especially those with a history of heart disease or kidney disease to take some NSAIDs due to age-related organ weakness. In these people, taking NSAIDs can lead to serious side effects such as congestive heart failure.
Furthermore, researchers suggest that some recent studies question how effective opioid medication is for treatment of pain. With 50% of patients on strong opioid painkillers reporting no change in symptoms, or even a worsening of symptoms. Whilst these medications may be prescribed for long term conditions such as chronic low back pain, when the data suggests they may only be effective for 16 weeks of use.
There is even research that suggests that opioid medication may make pain worse, a phenomenon known as opioid-induced hyperalgesia. in which the person taking the opioid medication actually becomes more sensitive to certain pain stimuli. The medicated person may experience this pain the same as their ongoing underlying pain or they may feel the pain in a different form.
Given these concerns, it’s not really surprising that people with chronic pain will turn to natural alternatives.