Pain is a common complaint in the U.S., and there is an enormous number of medications available to combat it. It is a simple thing to grab some aspirin or ibuprofen to alleviate a headache, back pain, or menstrual cramps. Doctors regularly prescribe stronger anti-inflammatory medications or recommend corticosteroids when needed. While these medications may be effective at relieving minor pain, they also come with risks.
When should anti-inflammatory medications be used?
Is there a better way to treat pain?
Why do our bodies create inflammation?
We hear so much that paints inflammation in a negative light. Inflammatory diseases, chronic inflammation, using anti-inflammatory medications, and anti-inflammatory foods are a few commonly used terms. If inflammation is so harmful, why is it a normal process in our bodies?
Inflammation is actually a defense mechanism intended to protect injured tissue from infection and injury. It can be stimulated by physical trauma, wounds, burns, radiation, chemicals, viruses, and bacteria. When working correctly, inflammation eliminates the cause of injury and removes damaged tissues so the body can heal.
Even when inflammation occurs when it should, it can cause tremendous pain. Unfortunately, inflammation can also be triggered when it should not, causing allergic reactions and autoimmune responses. This can create a situation in which the body experiences chronic inflammation, or the immune system begins using inflammation to work against its own tissues. Additionally, as a body ages, the immune response often becomes deregulated and inflammation can become excessive. Excessive inflammation actually inhibits tissue regeneration, making it more difficult for your body to heal itself naturally.
Various medications exist to combat inflammation, and the pain it causes. The two most commonly used classes of anti-inflammatory medications are corticosteroids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Unfortunately, these medications do not eliminate the source of inflammation and may cause side effects.
This class of medications is often called steroids but is different from the type of steroids used to build muscle. They are a synthetic drug that acts like a naturally occurring hormone called cortisol. Cortisol and corticosteroids decrease inflammation and reduce the activity of the immune system.
A common usage is in cortisone shots. A cortisone shot is often injected into a joint to relieve pain and inflammation. This treatment is used for various types of arthritis, back pain, bursitis, and tendonitis.
Corticosteroids are also delivered through oral medications, injections, inhalers, skin creams, eye drops, and ear drops. They treat a wide variety of conditions, including asthma, hives, lupus, allergies, autoimmune diseases, COPD, MS, and inflammatory bowel disease.
In some instances, these steroids can be life-saving. When inflammation threatens to damage a critical organ, corticosteroids can save the organ, potentially saving the person’s life. For most conditions, they are effective at decreasing pain and improving function but are unable to cure the illness.
They do come with a large number of risks and side effects. The likelihood of having side effects increases when using high doses for long periods of time. Oral usage commonly causes acne, weight gain, glaucoma, high blood pressure, muscle weakness, stomach irritation and ulcers, depression, osteoporosis, and stunted growth in children.
The risks involved with cortisone shots increase with larger doses and repeated use. Common side effects are cartilage damage, death of nearby bone, joint infection, nerve damage, temporary increase in blood sugar, weakening or rupture of nearby tendons, thinning of nearby bone (osteoporosis), and thinning of the skin and soft tissue around the injection site.
NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs)
Unlike corticosteroids, this class of medication does not fight inflammation by mimicking a natural hormone. Instead, they inhibit COX enzymes that are created by the body. Normally, these enzymes produce prostaglandins that promote inflammation, fever, and pain. NSAIDs prevent the production of prostaglandins. This means that they are highly effective at reducing inflammation, fever, and pain.
NSAIDs are available as over the counter and prescription medications. Aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, celecoxib, are examples of NSAIDs.
People take them for nearly any form of pain, to reduce fevers, and to relieve body aches caused by the common cold or flu. Since NSAIDs reduce many types of pain, they are one of the most commonly used medications. In fact, a recent study found that over 26% of adults in the U.S. are regular users of NSAIDs.
This is a concerning statistic because the risks associated with regular use increase the longer they are used. Some of the most serious risks are cardiovascular thrombotic events, myocardial infarction, stroke, kidney disease, and gastric ulcers. Although the possibility of adverse events goes up over time, short-term use also carries significant risk. The risk is so high that all NSAIDs carry this warning: “To minimize the potential risk for an adverse CV event in patients treated with an NSAID, the lowest effective dose should be used for the shortest duration possible.” This is problematic because many people consistently use NSAIDs for chronic pain.
In addition to the potentially fatal side effects, other common side effects include kidney damage, gas, bloating, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and/or constipation, dizziness, headaches, heartburn, photosensitivity, blurred vision, and many others.
Why Regenerative Medicine offers a better option.
Regenerative medicine utilizes your body’s natural healing processes to reduce inflammation and, for some conditions, heal the source of inflammation and pain. Anti-inflammatory medications only reduce symptoms and prevent some conditions from progressing.
At Temecula Center for Integrative Medicine, we use mesenchymal stem cells extracted from the membrane of donated umbilical cords and placentas. These cell types can help your body regenerate tissue, inhibit inflammation, and regulate immune responses. These qualities make them an ideal choice for reducing inflammation and the pain it causes.
Inflammation has many different causes. An injury, arthritis, or chronic inflammation are very distinct conditions that will all need different treatments. Additionally, the factors causing a condition will vary depending on the person, requiring a unique treatment plan. Some people will need one dose of stem cells, another could require a combination of stem cell therapy, platelet-rich plasma therapy, and pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) therapy, while still another could require these therapies in conjunction with supplements and lifestyle and dietary changes.
Understanding that each person’s situation is unique, we create a customized treatment plan specifically designed for you. Your treatment plan is created with the intent to quickly eliminate your pain and help your body heal completely. It will include long-term strategies and follow-up therapies that will allow you to remain pain-free and fully functional. No one should be resigned to living a life that includes simply managing pain, and we would be privileged to help you gain a healthy, fully functional body.
Jonathan Vellinga, M.D. is an Internal Medicine practitioner with a broad interest in medicine. He graduated Summa cum laude from Weber State University in Clinical Laboratory Sciences and completed his medical degree from the Medical College of Wisconsin.
Upon graduation from medical school, he completed his Internal Medicine residency at the University of Michigan. Dr. Vellinga is board-certified with the American Board of Internal Medicine and a member of the Institute for Functional Medicine.