Popping a pill may ward of back pain for now, but new research shows that relying too heavily on medications may lead to worse symptoms later on.
Opoid drugs, like Vicodin, Percocet, and OxyContin, are frequently prescribed for patients with severe pain. However few studies have examined the effects of opioid prescriptions on the long-term outcome of back-pain treatment.
To better understand how opioids affect patients with back problems, the researchers recruited 715 patients who presented at primary care clinics with back pain. They measured the patients’ baseline disability and tracked their opioid prescriptions using medical records. Nearly a third of patients were prescribed opioid drugs at the beginning of treatment.
After six months, the researchers evaluated the same group of patients for disability and overall function. Patients taking opioids had slightly worse disability scores compared to patients not prescribed the drugs. This association held even after adjusting for confounding factors.
This study suggests that opioid prescriptions are not a viable solution for the long-term management of chronic back pain. Instead patients seeking lasting relief may want to consider conservative treatments that address the root of back pain rather than masking the symptoms.
This research on opioids comes at the heels of another new study suggesting that chiropractic is more effective than medication for back pain.
Asworth J, et al. Opioid use among low back pain patients in primary care: Is opioid prescription associated with disability at 6 month follow-up? Pain 2013; doi 10.1016/j.pain.2013.03.011.