If you’ve ever woken up with a sore back or an intense headache and immediately reached for an aspirin, you are probably grateful when the symptoms start to abate, allowing you to go about your day like normal.
Now, imagine if it wasn’t that simple. Roughly 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, a condition where the body continues to send pain signals to the brain long after an injury has healed. For many, this pain can be life-altering, making everyday tasks seem like a challenge. While over-the-counter pain medications are common treatment options, they aren’t always effective and can cause problems of their own.
When you’re in pain, it may feel like none of that really matters. But is there a better way? To find out, we surveyed over 1,000 people about their perceptions of and experiences with pain to understand what parts of their body are impacted most, what they use to treat it, and how alternative treatments (including CBD oil) could make a major difference in their life. Read on to see what we learned about managing pain in America.
Experiencing the kind of debilitating pain that requires treatment or medication isn’t always as simple as visiting the doctor. For some, just diagnosing these concerns can be tricky and requires an ongoing relationship with your practitioner to identify the cause.
More than 93 percent of people reported having experienced pain that required treatment. No matter if it was chronic or temporary, the most common cause of their discomfort was the same: the lower back. For nearly 36 percent of people with chronic pain and just over 23 percent with a temporary condition, the lumbar and lower back area represented the most commonly afflicted part of the body. Unlike other issues, there are literally dozens of reasons you might be experiencing lower back pain, and not all of them may be immediately obvious.
Three other areas of the body represented the most common sources of both chronic and temporary pain: the head, knees, and neck. Just like lower back pain, there are numerous reasons you might experience headaches (even on a frequent basis), making identifying a successful treatment plan even more difficult.
For people living with chronic pain, every day can be a struggle as they try to both manage and treat their symptoms. In many cases, these efforts can lead to the use of both over-the-counter and prescription medications for an extended period.
As our survey revealed, a majority of those suffering from either temporary or chronic conditions used over-the-counter medication (nearly 77 percent) to help cope with the pain, followed by prescription medications (61.1 percent) and physical therapy (over 43 percent).
In most cases, the risks associated with medications like ibuprofen and acetaminophen (commonly sold as Advil and Tylenol) are mild as long as the medications aren’t mixed with other drugs or alcohol. While you might experience some unpleasant side effects, including nausea or dizziness, the biggest concerns with over-the-counter remedies are typically related to allergic reactions and excessive doses.
The same isn’t necessarily true for prescription pain medication, though. Nearly 73 percent of people taking prescription drugs for their pain used opioids to help control their symptoms. Because opioids are also offered as an extended-release option, they’re a common solution for people who need ongoing treatment and care for their chronic pain. Beyond the potential for overdosing, the biggest concern for most opioid patients is addiction. In addition to following your doctor’s exact instructions on dosage and consumption, it’s important to disclose any history of substance abuse to your health care provider to avoid unintentional misuse.
As the concerns and potential complications of conventional medicine, particularly the use of opioids, get more mainstream attention, people are starting to look elsewhere for solutions. In fact, roughly 1 in 3 Americans look for medical advice outside of traditional avenues (like going to the doctor’s office).
According to our survey, nearly half of people believed alternative treatment options should be explored before taking medication to help manage pain symptoms. Slightly fewer people suggested these alternative measures could be equally as effective for managing pain.
For some people, the issue with prescription or over-the-counter treatment options isn’t the side effects, the danger of addiction, or the risk of an overdose: It is that they are ineffective at providing long-term relief from their symptoms. Many of these medications are designed to help manage conditions associated with chronic pain, rather than to treat or cure them.
The popularity of alternative or modern types of treatment is rising sharply. While these options shouldn’t always be used in lieu of conventional medicine, they can sometimes offer complimentary benefits to medication or therapy. Among the people who’d experienced temporary or chronic pain, more than 59 percent had looked into alternative pain treatments. Of those who had considered it, 77 percent tried alternative options. In most cases, it was personal research (68 percent) rather than a recommendation from either a friend or doctor that helped people find alternative medical solutions.
The preferred options for alternative treatment involved physical therapies. The most commonly used alternative therapy was massage (62 percent), followed by chiropractic care (over 35 percent), yoga (roughly 32 percent), acupuncture (30 percent), and meditation (29 percent). As a nonsurgical solution, chiropractic care involves the manual manipulation of the spine in a way that promotes internal healing and pain relief.
Perhaps one of the biggest hurdles when pursuing alternative medicine isn’t finding access to treatment or getting a credible recommendation from friends and family; it’s believing that alternative medicine can actually help manage the symptoms of your pain. Scientific evidence is usually a good way to gauge whether something will actually work for you, but it isn’t always possible regarding alternative treatments.
People willing to at least experiment with alternative pain treatments did so primarily to find a more natural way of treating their conditions. While not everyone was equally as excited by the idea of alternative medicine, just over 54 percent of those who’d experimented with more modern forms of medicine were looking for a better solution than conventional care. The desire to find a solution that would actually work (39 percent) and the fear of becoming addicted to pain medication (31 percent) were the other main drivers for people giving alternative treatments a chance.
In fact, the most common reason people avoided trying these alternative forms of medicine wasn’t a fear they wouldn’t work or that they might not be safe: It was simply a lack of general information or knowledge about what options might be available.
For many people, conventional medication isn’t always sufficient to help manage the ongoing symptoms of pain. A fear of dependence, mixed reactions, and overdosing often makes patients wary of accepting a recommendation for high-strength painkillers, even when advised by a physician.
But there may be a better solution. In recent years, cannabidiol (or CBD) has risen in popularity, but it is often misunderstood. As a derivative of marijuana, your first impression of CBD oil may be linked to the idea of “getting high.” In reality, tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC) is the chemical composition of marijuana responsible for creating psychedelic effects on the mind. CBD interacts with receptors in the body that can act as a natural but scientifically backed pain relief, anti-inflammatory, and mental health aid.
While there was still some confusion among those surveyed about the legality of CBD oil (nearly 31 percent), its psychoactive effects (29 percent), or even what it is (29 percent), those concerns were overshadowed by a general interest in learning more. Nearly 72 percent of respondents were open to trying CBD for pain relief, and fewer than 1 in 5 suggested it might not be effective at reducing their symptoms. Beyond states that have made marijuana legal for recreational or medicinal use, another 17 states have passed legislation allowing for the use of CBD in various health-related capacities.
Whether it’s as a result of an injury, illness, or pain you’re trying to manage, chronic pain can seem like a never-ending battle. Trying to explain the symptoms to a physician can be challenging, and finding a treatment solution that actually helps to relieve the pain can prove even more difficult. While not everyone surveyed was equally enthusiastic about the idea of alternative medicine, those who’d experimented with alternative pain treatments sometimes found a more effective solution than conventional care.
With fears ranging from dependency and addiction to overdose and mixed prescriptions, there are a number of reasons why people suffering from chronic pain are concerned with over-the-counter and prescription medications. If you’re looking for a solution to help manage your pain and protect your long-term health, alternative options, like massages, chiropractic adjustments, and even CBD oil, could provide the relief you need without the worry of side effects associated with some conventional medicine.
Using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, we surveyed 1,009 people about their experiences with pain and pain management. Respondents were 51.1 percent women and 48.9 percent men. The average age of respondents was 36.9 with a standard deviation of 11.7.
Respondents were disqualified if they failed an attention check within the survey. Otherwise, no other disqualifications were present. Respondents were asked if they had ever experienced chronic or temporary pain that required treatment. Those who reported experiencing either type of pain then answered questions about their experiences.
Those who did not report experiencing pain that required treatment were asked about their views on pain-relief strategies and how they would hypothetically treat their pain. Their responses are included in the data about CBD oil and the perceived efficacy of alternative treatments for pain relief.
When presenting respondents’ concerns about trying CBD oil for pain relief, the percentage of respondents who reported not knowing what CBD oil is (27.6%) and not knowing enough about it (1.6%) were combined into one measure labeled as “I don’t know enough about it.”
The data we present here are self-reported. Self-reported data are associated with issues such as selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and exaggeration. This should be taken into account when reviewing our results.
Fair Use Statement
Do you know someone in pain who could benefit from the information we’ve presented? You can share this content with them for any noncommercial use as long as you link back here so that people can see our study in its entirety and review the methodology.