Avoiding Opioids for Back Pain
Injury Care & PreventionPressWellness Nov 18, 2019
Avoiding Opioids for Back Pain

With a major settlement from three drug distributors and an opioid manufacturer reached just ahead of the first federal opioid trial this month, continued news coverage of opioid-related deaths, and new synthetic opioid drugs appearing across the country, opioids are still very much on the mind of may of us in the United States and around the world. 

Thanks to efforts from the American Medical Association, federal and state government task forces, local community organizations and more, rates of opioid prescriptions in most of the United States have finally begun to slow

The epidemic, however, is far from over. In 2015, more than 12 million Americans reported long-term opioid use or misuse, and, in the same year, drug overdoses were responsible for more deaths than car accidents. Today, the United States averages 142 overdose deaths every day, and rates of prescription opioid overdose deaths specifically are holding consistently.

Opioids and Back Pain

One of the most common conditions for which opioids are prescribed is low back pain, and several studies report that more than half of opioid users have a history of low back pain. 

But the efficacy of opioids in treating acute back pain isn’t proven—it’s only inferred from evidence in other acute pain conditions—and there’s little evidence of efficacy in reducing pain for chronic back pain sufferers beyond the short term as well. Neither do opioids seem to improve functionality or reduce the time it takes for employees to get back to work.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that between 21% and 29% of patients prescribed opioids misuse them; More than 10 million people misused prescription opioids in 2018. Are the slim benefits worth the risks?

Finding relief without opioids 

Guidelines issued by both the American College of Physicians and the Centers for Disease Control recommend conservative, non-pharmacological therapies—think physical therapy, chiropractic, or acupuncture—as a first line of treatment for low back pain, and specifically discourage the use of opioids to treat pain.

Recent research conducted in partnership with Orthology’s Dr. David Elton shows that when guidelines are followed—when patients see a physical therapist, chiropractor or other conservative therapy provider first—patients are between 85% and 90% less likely to experience both short- and long-term opioid use

In most areas of the United States, you can see a chiropractor to address your pain right away. If you live in a Direct Access state, you can pursue conservative therapies with a physical therapist on your own, too. 

For those without direct access, ask your doctor about taking a conservative approach with a to your low back or other musculoskeletal pain with a physical therapist.