Category: Back Pain | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: November 1, 2016
Millions of people suffer from chronic low back pain. Because every person is different and the root cause of pain varies from person to person, there’s no straightforward way of treating chronic low back pain. Opioids and pain relievers can certainly help some patients experience mild temporary relief, but new research suggests that oftentimes it is ineffective and can create additional health concerns.
For their study, more than 2,000 patients with chronic low back pain were surveyed about their treatment options and the success of each method. Nearly half of them were taking opioids for their chronic low back pain, but only 13 percent said the opioids were “very successful” at combating their back pain. 41 percent responded “somewhat successful,” 31 percent said “moderately successful” and 12 percent said “not successful.”
Side Effects May Outweigh Benefits
So while only 13 percent of people experienced successful relief from chronic back pain through prescription medications, a number of people experienced side effects that seem to outweigh the benefits of opioids. For example, of those patients surveyed:
- 75 percent said they experienced side effects associated with their opioids, with 65 percent of respondents saying they experienced constipation, 37 percent experienced sleepiness, 32 percent dealt with cognitive issues and 29 percent reported dependence.
- 41 percent said they felt “judged” when taking opioids.
Dr. Asokumar Buvanendran, lead author of the study, said many people ask their doctors about pain relievers because they are experiencing a great deal of pain and are unaware of other, less risky treatment options.
Chronic Back Pain is Complex
“Patients are increasingly aware that opioids are problematic, but don’t know there are alternative treatment options,” said Dr. Buvanendran. “While some patients may benefit from opioids for severe pain for a few days after an injury, physicians need to wean their patients off them and use multi-modal therapies instead.”
This study shows that chronic low back pain is complicated, and that you can’t just treat the condition with passive measures. Instead of going to your general practitioner, take a more aggressive approach and seek out a back pain specialist. Instead of falling back on medications, talk with your doctor about less risk-dependent options and how lifestyle changes (improved diet, regular exercise, giving up smoking) can impact your back pain. Taking an active approach to managing your chronic back pain is almost always better than a passive approach using opioids. That’s not to say pain medications can’t help with low back pain, but treatments like physical therapy and targeted stretching exercises have higher success rates and less risks, so weigh all your options when deciding how to tackle your low back pain.