The invention of opioids as a class of medications to alleviate pain was a revolution. It has given physicians the ability to ease suffering at the end of life and to ease the pain of acutely traumatic injuries and post-operative recovery.

Whether it’s for an 8-year-old with 80 percent of her body covered in burns or a 65-year-old man with Stage 4 prostate cancer, intravenous narcotics have allowed physicians to lighten the burden of intolerable pain.

Narcotics were never meant to be a long-term solution. They are a short-term relief for severe pain.

With this relief has come unfortunate abuse and addiction.

I suspect most of us have been touched by prescription drug addiction in some form – either our own struggles or watching a loved one battle with it.

Many physicians have come to realize that long-term pain relief must be accomplished without narcotic drugs. Research is very clear: long-term narcotics usage shortens life spans and subjects the users to risks such as inadvertent drug overdoses.

According to some research in Florida, narcotics use directly relates to children of prescription opiate users going into foster care, as their parents just can’t care for them.

But what do we do without narcotics as a drug class?

We look at other drug classes, hands-on therapies (massage, acupuncture, physical, myofascial release, etc.) and challenges ourselves to continue to develop other treatment modalities.

Not everything can be fixed with surgery. Surgery is an answer to severe dysfunction that our own bodies have been unable to overcome.

It is the point at which an invasive and sometimes physically rough surgery is a better choice than what your body is doing at that moment.

There is certainly a need for surgical interventions in some cases. But it is always a good day when a patient safely avoids a trip to the operating room.

It’s been a while since we have a seen another huge section of medicine evolve, but stem cell therapy is revolutionizing how we treat disease.

The dream is that we can correct disease and dysfunction on a cellular level, rather than with invasive surgeries or medications with all sorts of adverse effects.

What if we could turn off the expression of the gene that causes Huntington’s dementia?

What if we could fix those abnormal chloride channels that cause cystic fibrosis?

What if we could trigger our own bodies to regrow tissues that have worn out?

We are in the infancy of stem cell technology and therapies. Already, we are witnessing the healing and return to function it is providing to chronic degenerative joints and other musculoskeletal injuries.

Our bodies were made for motion and function – even in our later years. I am excited to see stem cells contributing to that return to function and maintenance of a healthy and functional musculoskeletal system in a minimally invasive way.

Dr. Heather Hinshelwood specializes in emergency medicine and also practices at Fraum Chiropractic Life Center on Hilton Head Island, utilizing stem cell therapy.