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22 Secrets Pain Doctors Won’t Tell You

Learn what pain doctors are really thinking when you visit them, and how you can better manage your symptoms.

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Doctors can give you pain meds but they'd rather determine the cause of painPhoto: Shutterstock

Sure, I can give you some meds to dampen the pain

But the best doctors will talk to you about the cause of your pain, whether it’s your lack of activity, your stress level, a health condition like arthritis, your mattress, or one of these surprising back pain causes.

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Using heat or ice is a secret that pain doctors will not tell youPhoto: Shutterstock

Heat or ice?

Use an ice pack for acute injuries, to minimize blood flow and reduce swelling and pain. Use heat to loosen muscles and stiff joints and help you feel more mobile.

Also read: How to Relieve Back Pain: 10 Tips Worth Trying.

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Secret pain doctors won't tell you: any doctor can say they "treat pain"Photo: Shutterstock

Any doctor can hang a shingle that says ‘I treat pain’

Look for doctors who are board-certified in pain medicine or who did a fellowship in something pain-related.

Bonus: Understanding Your Back Pain

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Secret pain doctors won't tell you: your back and neck pain likely have little or nothing to do with your abnormal MRIPhoto: Shutterstock

Your back and neck (and often shoulder) pain likely have little or nothing to do with your abnormal MRI

Studies show that if you perform an MRI on any 100 people, you’ll find an abnormality in about 90 per cent of them, even if they’re not experiencing any back or neck pain.

Here are 3 of the Best Herbs and Supplements to Relieve Back Pain.

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A secret pain doctors won't tell you: you should reconsider before asking for pain medsPhoto: Shutterstock

Reconsider before asking for a prescription

The latest research shows that taking opioid pain meds (like OxyContin) for chronic pain can change the brain, damaging its ability to feel pleasure and leading to a craving for more drugs. A few studies found that long-term use can actually lead to increased back or neck pain.

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A secret that pain doctors won't tell you: play word games to ease mild painPhoto: Shutterstock

In mild pain? Play word games or another favourite challenging puzzle

When you distract your brain, you don’t hurt as much. Another activity that helps: watching a funny TV show.

Give your brain a workout with our Daily Crossword challenge!

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A secret that pain doctors will not tell you: most back pain will subside on its ownPhoto: Shutterstock

Before you praise me for curing your back pain, remember this

It may have gone away on its own. Approximately 90 per cent of low-back pain subsides within 12 weeks without medical intervention.

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A secret that pain doctors won't tell you: consider experimenting with dietary changes to ease chronic painPhoto: Shutterstock

If you have chronic pain, consider experimenting with dietary changes

Eliminate dairy for a few weeks, then reintroduce it and see how you feel. Do the same with wheat, red meat, shellfish, citrus, peanuts, caffeine, and alcohol, one at a time. If your pain gets worse when you add back a food, then food allergies may be contributing to your problem.

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A secret that pain doctors won't tell you: doctors will recommend treatment based on their area of expertisePhoto: Shutterstock

If I specialize in prescribing narcotics, giving injections, or doing surgery, that’s probably what I’m going to recommend

But there are dozens of other effective health treatment options like massage, physical therapy, chiropractic, acupuncture, spinal cord stimulators, and behavioural therapy.

Check out these additional pain management therapy options.

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A secret that pain doctors won't tell you: think twice before opting for surgeryPhoto: Shutterstock

Think twice about having surgery, especially on your back or spine

I’m in a practice with only three doctors, and between us, we have over 1,000 patients who had back surgery who wish they never had. In a Consumer Reports survey, just 60 per cent of those who had back surgery were completely or very satisfied with the results.

Consider discussing these 4 Treatments For Chronic Back Pain With Your Doctor.

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A secret that pain doctors won't tell you: pain can be mental, tooPhoto: Shutterstock

Pain is mental too

So you may want to explore psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, meditation, and even self-hypnosis.

Here are 8 Ways to Naturally Increase Your Endorphin Levels.

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A secret that pain doctors won't tell you: your pain will improve with the right kind of exercisePhoto: Shutterstock

Your pain will improve with the right kind of exercise

And it will probably feel worse if you won’t get a good night’s sleep.

 

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A secret that pain doctors won't tell you: pain medications are known for causing severe constipationPhoto: Shutterstock

Pain medications are known for causing severe constipation

Always ask about a stool softener, or try one of these constipation home remedies.

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A secret that pain doctors won't tell you: try taking Tylenol or Advil for a few days before seeing your doctorPhoto: Shutterstock

Before you come to me, try taking Tylenol or Advil for a few days

Simple, but it works.

Also, consider trying these 6 Exercises For Back Pain

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A secret that pain doctors won't tell you: doctors who prescribe narcotics after surgery tend to under-dosePhoto: Shutterstock

Surgeons and orthopedic doctors who prescribe narcotics after surgery tend to under-dose

That’s because they’re worried about creating an addiction. If you’re still in pain after a procedure, it’s OK to ask for more.

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A secret that pain doctors won't tell you: paralysis from spinal stenosis is a mythPhoto: Shutterstock

Diagnosed with spinal stenosis?

If you’ve been diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal, and your doctor says you could be paralyzed if you don’t have surgery, find another doctor. Studies have shown that’s not true, and surgery should be a last resort only after you’ve tried other options.

Check out these 33 Secrets Hospitals Don’t Want to Tell You (But Every Patient Should Know).

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A secret that pain doctors won't tell you: try injections before surgery for carpal tunnel syndromePhoto: Shutterstock

Try injections for carpal tunnel

Injections for carpal tunnel syndrome have the highest success rate of any procedure I do, hands down. It should definitely be something you try before you resort to surgery.

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A secret that pain doctors won't tell you: they have to ask for a drug test to ensure you are not getting addictedPhoto: Shutterstock

Please don’t take it personally when I ask you to take a drug test

We want to believe that you’re not addicted, but research shows 18 to 41 per cent of patients who take narcotic pain relievers are abusing them, and I don’t want to be responsible.

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A secret that pain doctors won't tell you: your treatment is a success if we get rid of 50 per cent of your pain and help you to be more functionalPhoto: Shutterstock

Chances are, you’re never going to be 100 per cent pain-free

Especially if you’re experiencing chronic back or knee pain. In many cases, we consider your treatment a success if we get rid of 50 per cent of your pain and help you to be more functional.

Did you know that Certain Foods Can Ease Knee Pain?

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A secret that pain doctors won't tell you: steroid injections are now a top treatment for back painPhoto: Shutterstock

Steroid injections are now a top treatment for back pain

But critics say there is little evidence of any long-term benefit compared to their risks, especially for back pain that doesn’t radiate down the legs.

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A secret that pain doctors won't tell you: doctors are paid about five to 10 times more for doing a procedure on you than for counsellingPhoto: Shutterstock

We’re incentivized to find ways to treat you

Pain doctors are paid about five to 10 times more for doing a procedure on you than for counselling you about how to prevent pain and injury. Nerve blocks and injections are very lucrative, especially if you do them assembly-line-style all day long.

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A secret that pain doctors won't tell you: your pain will get better faster if you stay activePhoto: Shutterstock

Get out of bed!

For every day you’re lying there, you lose 1 to 3 per cent of your muscle strength, and then you start to feel stiff simply because you’re not moving. Your pain will get better faster if you stay active.

 

Sources: David Greene, MD, CEO of the Florida Pain Network; Adam Perlman, MD, executive director of Duke Integrative Medicine at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina; Norman Marcus, MD, a pain medicine specialist at NYU Langone and author of End Back Pain Forever; Scott E. Glaser, MD, co-founder and president of the Pain Specialists of Greater Chicago; Joe Carlon, CEO of Arizona Pain Specialists and Boost Medical in Scottsdale, Arizona; and Marty Makary, MD, MPH, author of Unaccountable: What Hospitals Won’t Tell You and How Transparency Can Revolutionize Health Care.

 

Originally Published in Reader's Digest