an alternative to opioids: surgical nerve repair

If you’re living with chronic pain, it may feel like opioids are the only way to find relief, however brief. Surgical nerve repair is a different approach.

For as long as we’ve been able to, humans have used opioids in some form or another to block pain. In the modern era, these include prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. While the intention is good—stopping the experience of pain—the side effects of opioids pose a large risk: addiction

The risk of addiction increases the more that opioids are used—especially when they are used to manage chronic pain over a long period of time. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Researchers have found that taking opioid medications for more than a few days increases your risk of long-term use, which increases your risk of addiction.”

According to the American Society of Anesthesiologists, “Opioids block pain messages sent from the body through the spinal cord to the brain.” When the pain relief wears off, addicted individuals can feel an urgency to find the next available relief and get another break from the constant pain.

Individuals experiencing chronic pain due to nerve damage could avoid prolonged use of pain relievers by considering a surgical option.

treating the source, not the symptoms

If you’ve been experiencing chronic pain after surgery, traumatic injury or amputation that lingers beyond the normal recovery time, it could indicate a nerve injury. Some studies have found that up to 77% of individuals have pain six or more months after experiencing trauma.

Unfortunately, the first course of action for patients with chronic pain is often to manage the symptoms through pain medications, which offer temporary relief but do not fix the source of the pain.

understanding your risk

Addiction is a disease that doesn’t discriminate. This means that anyone could be at risk of becoming addicted to pain killers—through no fault of their own. But individuals experiencing chronic pain have a higher risk than most of misusing their prescriptions with prolonged use. According to the National Institutes of Health, “With an increase in chronic pain, there has been a simultaneous rise in opioid use. This use has been associated with pain relief, but also with an increase in adverse outcomes (e.g., addiction, overdose, insufficient pain relief).”

Because of their addictive quality, it’s important to understand the risk when starting a prescription painkiller. By 2015, roughly 21%–29% of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misused them. And between 8%–12% of people using an opioid for chronic pain developed an opioid use disorder.

These numbers are staggering and emphasize how overwhelming the opioid crisis has become. But for those living with chronic pain due to a nerve injury, there is hope for another option. One that treats the source of the problem.

understanding pain

Pain is different for everyone. Some complain of tingling, numbness or pain all over. Others describe it as “pins and needles,” sharp spasms, a burning sensation, or extreme sensitivity to touch or heat and cold. It may be constant or intermittent.

When nerve damage causes nerve pain, it’s important to understand the options for repairing the source of the pain rather than typical treatments—like opioids—which may only temporarily manage the symptom.

As an alternative to prolonged use of opioids, surgical nerve repair focuses on identifying and repairing the cause of the pain, potentially providing a much more permanent solution.

patient spotlight: Achilles

On the brink of paid medication addiction, Achilles broke the cycle of pain and refills to find a better solution. Learn more.

repairing damaged nerves

Nerves can be injured in more ways than you might think. There are four common types of nerve injury that can sometimes lead to chronic pain:

  • Cut or laceration
  • Stretching
  • Compression
  • Neuroma

Nerves need a structure to help guide the regenerating fibers to grow properly. If a nerve is damaged, it may no longer have the proper structure to guide this growth, leading to pain. Depending on your specific nerve damage, your surgeon may be able to repair the nerve with a variety of different techniques.

Surgically repairing a damaged nerve can significantly improve a patient’s quality of life and even help them to live without pain entirely.

could surgical nerve repair help you?

If you’re facing chronic pain after a traumatic injury or a surgical procedure, answer these questions to determine if you’re a candidate, and get connected to a specialist who may be able to help.