Opioids Generally Ineffective for Back Pain


Lower back pain is the top cause of disability globally. As a common treatment for many varieties of pain, prescription drugs are often a go-to solution for an injured or chronically sore back. Patients receiving prescriptions for opioids and other pain management drugs usually take their effectiveness for granted. They may also discount the risks associated with long-term use of opioids, especially if their doctor downplayed them or failed to discuss them with patients whom they prescribed these drugs.

A recent piece published in the respected medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine conducted a systematic review of studies on the efficacy of opioid drugs given to patients experiencing lower back pain.

What the Evidence Says about Opioid Medication for Back Pain

The researchers exploring the efficacy of opioids for relieving pain in the lower back looked at 20 different studies on the topic and synthesized the data they gathered to determine results. Over 7,000 participants in total were studied.

They found that "opioid analgesics provide modest short-term pain relief but the effect is not likely to be clinically important within guideline recommended doses."

Risks Associated With Opioid Use

Unfortunately, many patients taking opioids for pain management must consistently increase their dosage to continue achieving results. This can be dangerous, leading to addiction and other negative effects.

Last year, opioid deaths passed car accidents to become a leading cause of death in the United States. Many of these cases stem from an original prescription for OxyContin or another powerful pharmaceutical synthetic opioid, often from a doctor and often to treat pain. As tolerance mounts and the patient cannot obtain more legitimately, many turn to procuring opioids from the street in the form of heroin. Worse, heroin purchased on the black market is often laced with Fentanyl, an extremely potent opioid 100 times stronger than morphine that frequently triggers an overdose.

Alternatives to Opioids for Back Pain

Physical therapy can offer enormous benefits. A licensed, committed physical therapist will develop an individualized plan for patients based on the nature and location of their pain. This can include specific exercise routines and movements. Moreover, they can recommend activities that can legitimately treat low back pain in some cases such as yoga, pilates, or sometimes simply walking.

Technology continues to advance the practice of physical therapy, making these types of interventions more effective and easier to perform. Often, patients who might have originally opted for surgery find that physical therapy helps them enough to avoid surgery that can be both costly and sometimes difficult to recover from physically.

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