Breakthrough pain is a term that was originally limited to describing bouts of exacerbated pain experienced by cancer patients, but has now been extended to describe such pain experienced by people with any condition who are already using long-term medication for pain management.
Treating breakthrough pain poses a number of problems for physicians. This type of pain is hard to measure objectively, and many doctors are concerned about prescribing more medication to patients already using opioid therapy. Typically, chronic pain patients are prescribed long-acting opioid medications that stay in the blood for a long time and require relatively infrequent dosing. Short-acting opioids, which deliver a quick burst of relief and require frequent re-dosing, are much more habit forming. When a cancer patient experiences breakthrough pain, short-acting opioids are often given to get the patient over the hump. But for people with non-cancer pain, this approach is questionable.
Opioid therapy is not the only option for breakthrough pain treatment. Patients may use NSAIDs or other non-opioid pain medications to manage exacerbated bouts of pain as long as the doctor rules out possible drug interactions. There are also non-drug options available. Acupuncture has been studied with promising results for pain management in general, but the available research for it concerning breakthrough pain is scant. See spcare.bmj.com for a review of relevant studies. Massage therapy is another natural option. Some patients may find topical creams, such as capsaicin cream, beneficial for nerve or muscle pain. Hot or cold packs may be used for localized breakthrough pain.
Every chronic pain patient can benefit from the development of an arsenal of relaxation techniques. The stress that you experience mentally and emotionally from physical pain can lead to worsened sensation of that pain. Deep breathing and visualization exercises can help take the edge off exacerbated pain. Cognitive behavioral therapy is the real heavy hitter when it comes to mental techniques for pain management. This therapy addresses the ideas, thoughts and beliefs patients have about their pain. The therapist works with the patient to eliminate inaccurate or counterproductive attitudes toward pain, thereby altering the physical experience of pain.
Treatment of non-cancer breakthrough pain is relatively new ground in the medical field. Seeking out natural chronic pain treatment will help you avoid the dangers of increased opioid use.