Painkillers and NSAIDs versus Osteopathy? This is an area of great debate. Painkillers (such as paracetamol) and NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such ibuprofen) are two of the most common pharmaceutical drugs used to treat musculoskeletal (mechanical) pain. However, recent evidence has shown that these types of drugs are very often ineffective, if not inappropriate, in the treatment of musculoskeletal pain. Here Osteopath Tim Goullet sheds some light as to why traditional forms of physical therapy such as Osteopathy are more effective.

MUSCULOSKELETAL OR “MECHANICAL” PAIN

Musculoskeletal or mechanical pain refers to any pain in our bodies’ scaffolding (skeleton) and adjoining parts (joints and ligaments), as well as the pulley systems which make it all move (muscles, tendons and fascia). All mechanical systems are subject to stress and strain. Parts moving against each other create heat and friction and require lubrication. A car engine is a good example of how important oil is to maintain smooth functioning of its various parts.

HOW DOES FRICTION AFFECT THE HUMAN BODY?

Our bodies are constantly subject to friction during movement and are well designed to cope with this task. If this were not the case, our species may well have become extinct. Anti-friction devices in our bodies include the following structures:

  • Synovial fluid:which is found inside most joints.
  • Bursa:these are fluid filled sacks strategically located at points of mechanical stress.
  • Tendon sheaths:these containing synovial fluid.
  • Fluid between fascial layers and sheaths which compartmentalise groups of muscle fibres, as well as organs of the body

When stresses increase to a significantly greater amount than is normal, the amount of friction present increases. Too much friction causes inflammation and pain!

WHEN AND HOW DOES INFLAMMATION OCCUR?

Inflammation can arise from the excessive use of a particular part of the body. Classic examples are tennis elbow/ golfer’s elbow and Achilles tendinitis (anything word with “itis” at the end means inflammation). Apart from overuse, technique issues can also cause inflammation. This sometimes happens if a tennis player adjusts a serving action or their grip on the racquet.

The other important cause of inflammation are imbalances in the body which create excessive strain on one specific area. For example, it is very common for a back problem to create a lean off to one side and, as a consequence, cause a hip, knee, ankle or foot problem on the side taking the extra weight. It must be stressed that taking anti-inflammatory drugs will never fix this kind of problem.

SOME WORRYING STATISTICS

Did you know that…

  • Almost half of the adult population take prescription drugs? [Source: NHS Choices]
  • GPs in England prescribed 23.8 million opioid-based painkillers in 2017, the equivalent of 2,700 items every hour. This was 10 million more prescriptions than in 2007. [Source: BBC News]

POTENTIAL RISKS OF LONG-TERM USE OF PAINKILLERS & NSAIDS

Here are some of the potential risks of long-term use of painkillers and NSAIDs.

  • Indigestion, stomach ulcers & diarrhoea
  • Headaches, drowsiness & dizziness
  • Possible liver, kidney or heart problems
  • Addiction

[Source: NHS: NSAIDs]

WHY NOT GIVE OSTEOPATHY A TRY?

Smooth gliding of our pulley systems of muscles and tendons requires good joint alignment and also good muscle tone. Like a ripe fruit, not too hard (from the excessive amounts of repetitive movements) and not too soft (from doing too little!). An osteopath can help loosen tight muscles and suggest exercises to tone and strengthen weak/ soft muscles.

In terms of our skeleton and joints, an osteopath can help loosen stiff joints or prescribe strengthening exercises and advice for those with hypermobile joints. Osteopaths are particularly skilled at realigning the spine when this has been injured; even if it was decades ago. The body can be incredibly responsive, even as we get older.

So, if painkillers and anti-inflammatory medication are part of your typical day to help deal with a mechanical problem, why not visit an osteopath and see if there is an alternative solution?

OSTEOPATHY AT THE PUTNEY CLINIC

At The Putney Clinic of Physical Therapy we offer a wide range of Osteopathy services, click here for more details. For appointments with our team of expert osteopaths, you can book online or by calling 020 8789 3881.