Opioids No Better Than Placebos for Relieving Chronic Back Pain

treatment of chronic back pain

Chronic back pain is a common problem that affects around 5.5 million people according to findings from Versus Arthritis. Traditionally, doctors have often turned to opioids to help ease the pain. However, concern over addiction and side effects has led to increased research into the impact of using these drugs to treat chronic conditions.

According to the latest research, opioids may be no more useful than a placebo in treating chronic back pain. This surprising insight could change the way back pain is treated and prompt a look at other methods to help those suffering.

In this blog, we’ll examine what the study found and look at other ways to relieve this persistent and often debilitating pain.

Breaking Down the Findings of the Latest Study

Published in The Lancet, the latest study aimed to assess the effectiveness of opioids for treating acute lower back and neck pain. The research took place across 157 primary care and emergency department sites in Australia. It is the first placebo-controlled trial specifically for opioid use in acute low back and neck pain cases.

The goal of the study was to determine pain intensity, six weeks after starting the treatment. Participants were given a specific opioid therapy, and the dose was adjusted over time to gauge its impact on their level of pain.

Surprisingly, results revealed that using opioids for two to four weeks showed no significant improvement in overall quality of life, physical function, recovery time, or even time off from work. Even after six weeks, there was only a minimal difference in pain levels between those taking the opioids and those on the placebo.

More concerning was the discovery that a quarter of the participants from both groups started misusing opioids a year after the trial. While there were some limitations in the study, like missing data for 25% of participants, the findings suggest that opioids may not only be ineffective for treating certain types of back and neck pain but might also pose a risk for misuse.

What Are the Dangers of Treating Back Pain with Opioids?

Opioids, often prescribed for chronic pain relief, come with a range of risks. One of the main, and most concerning risks, is addiction. These powerful medications can be habit-forming, leading patients down a path of dependency that can be challenging to reverse. Once dependent, patients might increase their dosage beyond what’s prescribed, escalating the risk of overdose, a potentially fatal consequence.

Beyond addiction, there are various side effects associated with opioid use. These can range from constipation, drowsiness, and mental fog to more severe issues like respiratory depression, which happens when breathing becomes dangerously slow. Long-term use can also lead to increased tolerance, meaning over time, patients might need more of the drug to achieve the same level of pain relief, further amplifying the risks.

As highlighted in the recent study, opioids might not even provide significant relief for those with chronic back pain. This means patients could be exposing themselves to these risks without reaping the expected benefits.

MBST: A Safe and Effective Treatment for Chronic Back Pain

As concerns grow regarding opioid use for chronic back pain, alternative treatments are gaining in popularity. MBST, or Magnetic Resonance Therapy, is a particularly effective and safe choice. Unlike opioids, MBST is non-invasive and doesn’t rely on medications. Instead, it utilises magnetic fields to stimulate cells within the affected area, promoting regeneration and healing.

Patients undergoing MBST treatment typically report a reduction in pain and an improvement in mobility, without any nasty side effects. The therapy is especially promising for those who’ve tried other treatments without success.

As we continue to explore safer, more effective ways to manage chronic back pain, MBST could offer a path to relief that sidesteps the pitfalls of opioid use.

Schedule an appointment with MBST London for an assessment of chronic back pain.