Pain Medication vs. Injections: How to Find the Right Relief for You
If you are in pain, you are not alone. According to research reported by the American Academy of Pain Medicine, there are approximately 100 million Americans suffering from chronic pain. And if you are one of them, it may seem like there are 100 million different ways to approach managing and ultimately ending chronic pain. From conservative pain meds to prescription opioids, the landscape has changed over the years. Then add pain injections to the mix and you may end up with a headache along with your chronic pain, just trying to figure out the best path to take for some relief.
When you consider pain medication versus pain injections, is it really one versus the other? Dr. Kishan Yalavarthi, a CDI neuroradiologist, says patients weighing the options can end up with a paralysis of analysis – that’s when you have so much information it’s hard to make a decision:
Choosing Pain Medication
The 1990’s saw a surge in opioid pain medication prescriptions as a way to help people manage chronic pain, and today many pain sufferers turn to pills. What wasn’t understood early on was that opioids don’t always have the lasting or long-term effects doctors and their patients want. Plus, the side effects of opioid pain medications can worsen pain or lower quality of life due to drowsiness, immunosuppression, constipation and depression.
Pain medication can also be addictive – making it hard to stop taking it says Dr. Yalavarthi. “Because a lot of the medications have high levels of opiates and other complex chemicals in them, once you start, it can be tough to get relief from pain without oral pain meds.” If you quickly develop a tolerance, then you need more medicine to get the same amount of relief. Another factor to consider is that getting off oral pain medication can be a struggle and, once you quit, the pain is back.
Choosing Pain Injections
Many people suffering from pain don’t want to take medication, but their pain is still debilitating. If your quality of life is not ideal and, no matter what you may be doing, physical therapy isn’t helping, you’re likely looking around for alternatives.
Mike Higginbotham, a CDI patient, has been there. Mike suffers from debilitating sciatic pain that runs in his family. He watched his parents go through surgeries to try to find relief and he didn’t want to go through that himself. Instead, he started with physical therapy, but his pain got even worse. That’s when Mike’s doctor recommended a pain injection at CDI:
“During the physical therapy they were working on my muscles and they were literally as tight as piano strings. I’d end up with a shooting pain down my left leg, which indicated there was reason to take a look at possibly the shot to relieve some of the swelling in my lower back area so I could do the therapy that I needed.”
Mike went to see Dr. Yalavarthi for a pain injection. Using real time X-ray and CT guidance, Dr. Yalavarthi was able to identify and inject steroids in the correct location to reduce the inflammation and ultimately provide relief. Immediately after his procedure, Mike didn’t feel any of his sciatic pain. By alleviating the pain, he was able to continue physical therapy, building the muscles he needs to support his body and reduce the pressure on the nerves. (You can learn more about how pain injections provide relief here).
Just like Mike, many patients who come to CDI for spinal injections are in the pain range of 6 and up (on a scale of 10). After the pain injection, many leave reporting a 0 out of 10 on the pain scale. “That’s what we hope for and we see that pretty routinely,” says Dr. Yalavrathi. His spinal injections help alleviate pain and prevent patients from having to try surgery or other more aggressive methods of pain relief.
Making the Best Choice for Your Pain
So what will get you to the point where you are living pain free? That’s the million-dollar question. The most important thing you can do is work with your team of doctors and physical therapists. Sometimes you may get conflicting recommendations, warns Dr. Yalavarthi, who says making the right choice to manage pain can be confusing:
“It requires a good team of physicians and practitioners who can help you decide which pathway you would benefit from the most.”
Keep in mind, each patient is different and your response to pain and managing chronic pain is different. Work with your provider in setting goals and creating a path to a better, pain-free life.
About Dr. Yalavarthi
Kishan D. Yalavarthi, M.D. is a board certified diagnostic and neuroradiologist at ProSight Radiology Group who reads for St. Luke's Center for Diagnostic Imaging in Missouri. He specializes in neuroradiology and musculoskeletal imaging, and performs diagnostic and therapeutic injection procedures to help patients manage joint and back pain. Dr. Yalavarthi also performs image-guided interventional breast procedures. Read his full bio here.
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