21 Oct Shocking Study Upends Traditional Thinking On Back Pain
One of the best things about medical science is that it remains open to learning and understanding new things – at least when it is practiced properly. It should always be receptive to new discoveries and studies, even when the data goes against traditional thinking. Enter a shocking new study that upends traditional thinking on treating back pain.
The Australian study undercuts the idea that prescription pain medications – and opioids in particular – are the best course of action for treating acute or chronic back pain. Researchers discovered that prescription opioids are no better than placebo over the long term. They are now calling for a rethink of how we treat chronic back pain.
A 12-Month Study
Researchers at the University of Sydney’s Sydney School of Public Health recently concluded the first ever OPAL trial looking into the effectiveness of prescription opioids for treating pain in the neck and lower back. As an OPAL trial, the study was a randomized, placebo-controlled trial based on the goal of determining efficacy.
Some 350 participants were recruited from emergency departments and primary care sites. Each one was randomly assigned a six-week course of either prescription opioids or placebo. Participants also received standard care and medical advice, and they were followed up with at six weeks and one year.
When all the data was analyzed, here is what it revealed:
- Members of the opioid group did not report better pain relief at six weeks compared to the placebo group.
- Members of the placebo group reported better quality of life and pain outcome at 52 weeks.
- Members of the opioid group showed a higher risk of opioid misuse at 52 weeks.
The last statistic is not all that surprising given what we know about opioids. What is surprising is the second statistic. The fact that the placebo group reported better quality of life and pain outcome says something significant. It suggests that how a person thinks of and feels about pain influences the actual pain experience.
Other Ways to Treat Back Pain
A proper analysis of the Australian study leads to the inevitable conclusion that prescription opioids should not be the first course of treatment for back pain. One could even make the case that it should be the very last option after everything else has been tried. Fortunately, there are other ways to treat back pain.
When degenerative disc disease is the culprit, treatment options range from discography to medial branch blocks and lumbar radiofrequency neurotomy. When facet joint syndrome is revealed as the root cause of back pain, facet joint injections and stellate ganglion blocks are good candidates.
We could continue listing sources of back pain and describing the various treatment options clinicians have to work with. However, the point is made well enough: there are enough treatment options to consider that doctors do not need to settle for writing a prescription and sending the patient on their way.
Let’s Take a Fresh Look
Researchers and clinicians alike will take a variety of positions on the Australian study in the coming weeks and months. Here at Lone Star Pain Medicine, we want to offer you a new perspective. If you have been living with chronic back pain and have not found relief through prescription medications or other traditional treatments, let’s take a fresh look together.
As a pain management clinic, we have options your GP may not have discussed with you. Let us talk about what those options are and how they might offer you the relief you been searching for. Back pain doesn’t have to control your life. Neither do prescription medications.