Do Pain Meds Prevent Healing?
The vast number of people on pain medications including over the counter meds for headaches, muscle aches, menstrual cramps and even daily baby aspirin as well as prescription medications, may explain the increase in chronic conditions and injuries that don't heal. Think about it. In order for healing to take place a number of things have to happen. To put it simply, first your body detects an injury, a pathogen or a toxin. It immediately isolates the affected area by inflaming the surrounding tissues and stopping the sharing of fluids with the cells involved. If there is any physical injury, scar tissue will be created to lock down the area, prevent movement and prevent loss of blood or fluid. Now it sends in white blood cells to attack invaders, engulf offending substances and absorb debris and dead cells. During this process, messenger cells take back relevant information to the centers of immunity so the body can determine if a wider immune response is needed. Once the area has been cleared ( think of a mine field), then the body relaxes the inflammation, and allows healing nutrients, oxygen and remodeling activity to take place repairing damage and building new cells. Then restoration of regular movement and activity helps to gradually eliminate temporary scar tissue, and revitalize the pathways that join the affected area to the rest of the body.
But what happens when you take pain medication? The idea of pain medication is to block the nervous system from either detecting or reacting to the challenge. Now the positive note is that by doing this, it allows you to relax more, to sleep more, to regain function more quickly. This is why so many sleep medications are actually pain medications (think of Tylenol PM).
Pain is a signal, and a safety mechanism. It limits how much you do, how much you move and how much you subject yourself to. These help to shunt extra energy to the process of healing mentioned above, as well as saves nutrition and oxygen for this same purpose. By limiting your movement and function, you are preventing further injury, or more damaging results that can take longer to heal, or may never heal. By overriding pain signals, you may also be inhibiting many of the steps involved in the healing process. Pain signals are an essential component of nerve involvement and signaling throughout the body. Think of someone who is injured. If they never tell someone that they are injured, can they heal as well. In fact communication is key. And pain is part of that communication.
The goal of pain is not to debilitate us but to signal us in ways that direct us in making decisions that encourage healing. So pain may simply be a signal that healing has not taken place. The healthier option is to discover why. So don't reach for the aspirin. Instead listen to the body and search for clues to what is happening that creates the pain, and find solutions that will speed the healing process. Any time you need to take pain medication, be sure to limit the duration so that the body's normal process can take over. And don't forget that the body has its own pain management system, so find ways to make use of that system instead of blocking the body's innate signals.