Updated: Apr 12, 2020
There is an NHS campaign that launched recently across Sunderland and County Durham called Painkillers Don’t Exist. The campaign aims to raise awareness of the dangerous effects of long-term high-dose pain medication and empower people living with pain to make informed decisions about their health.
The campaign involves local GPs, pharmacists and health professionals, and has been launched in the North East because it is currently the highest opioid prescribing area in the country. Across County Durham, more than 55,000 prescriptions for opioids and gabapentinoids are dispensed each month, with an estimated 8,000 patients taking a risky combination of the two drugs every four weeks.
That’s a pretty shocking set of statistics, though in the broader context it is estimated that 7.1 million adults in England take prescribed opioids or gabapentinoid pain medication, with drugs such as codeine, morphine and tramadol often prescribed as a ‘quick fix’ to patients following an injury or operation.
Which brings us into the fitness arena, where dedication (obsession?) about looking as fantastic as possible can lead to injury and the search for shortcuts to limit the amount of time that members spend out of the gym.
I’ve spoken in the past about the need for effective and sensible recovery after training because, even though this may appear to be a sedentary activity, it is also a key component in making progress on any fitness programme. But respecting injury and the need to recover before stressing the body through sustained exercise is just as important, and crucial in building long-term health and fitness.
The truth is that most people when they encounter injury on the gym floor can reach for quick relief to get them through a period of discomfit or pain when recovering from injury. I know this from my years playing rugby, as well as training myself and clients. It is when this turns into the masking of pain to allow further exertion that this kind of temporary measure can turn into long-term damage.
As Painkillers Don’t Exist makes clear, over-dependence on the masking effects of painkillers can lead to addiction or even death if they are misused or taken for a prolonged time.
The North East of England, currently the highest opioid prescribing area in the country, is testament to that as is the fact that Sunderland is now called ‘the painkiller capital’ of the United Kingdom.
And isn’t that an unattractive accolade to have?
The clue is in the name of the Painkillers Don’t Exist campaign, in that such painkillers mask, but do not stop the pain, and since pain is an indicator of an underlying physiological injury or problem, masking or ignoring such warning signs can only lead to trouble in the long run.
It’s frustrating to miss a gym day, slow a workout or step off from fitness, but it is also an inevitable part of the cycle of training, recovery and growth. Break that cycle, or try to hack this physical and mental system, and decreased strength and fitness will follow.
So, respect the workout and the body if you want to succeed on the gym floor because quick fixes do not work where fitness is concerned.