Millions of people in the USA experience back pain and it has huge ramifications in their daily life; driving can be painful, picking up your children painful, standing up or sitting down can be painful and something as simple as going to sleep can be made impossible with throbbing pain from your back. The pain which is attributed to it affects your daily life in a huge variety of ways.
For years the most common treatment for back pain has been prescription pain medication, usually opioids, to mask the pain and make life more bearable and it works for some. But with more research and developments in other fields of medicine and pain management, is pain relief or muscle relaxants the most effective and safest way to deal with back pain?
In October 2015 a widely publicized study was distributed and discussed across the medical world questioning whether opioid pain relief was the best way to deal with lower back pain, here are some of the key points of the report.
Firstly, it claimed that amongst the study group who used opioid based pain relief, there was no distinguishable difference with those who did not use opioid based painkillers, questioning whether they added anything to the treatment which was prescribed at the initial visit to the emergency room. Over a three month period this was validated further. It raises the question, is the ‘benefit’ from using pain killers worth the additional risks?
Opioid based painkillers have many side effects. Indeed, during the study, half of those taking the opioids reported functional impairment possibly caused by the drugs. Opioids are dangerous when not serving any purpose for several reasons; they are highly addictive with drugs such as codeine being restricted in many countries as a controlled substance with penal sentences for those found to be distributing them illegally. And, the body can become dependent upon certain types of opioids such as diazepam to achieve certain normal functions like sleep with long-term exposure. Opioids have also long been attributed to not dealing with the cause of the pain and simply being a ‘masking agent’ which covers up the pain but does not address the cause of the lower back pain with people needing higher doses to achieve the same level of pain relief.
With these things in mind, the question needs to be asked: is there any empirical evidence to suggest that opioids are worth the risks, when there are drug free alternatives?
Causes of Lower Back Pain
As stated above, the use of opioids does not deal with the underlying issue which in many cases can be something quite simple. Lower back pain can be caused by a number of things which are environmental in nature; spending too much time sitting at a desk, poor posture, using poor lifting techniques, spending too much time driving or a bad sleeping position can all be causes of back pain which seemingly does not require opioids to solve them long-term.
Another criticism with the proliferation of opioids in cases which require medical attention is that they are being used to make something such as a slipped disk bearable as surgery is more expensive and time consuming so insurance companies have pressured the medical industry into prescribing rather than acting.
Alternatives to Opioids
Across the USA there has been a large increase in alternatives such as pain management doctors in Pennsylvania, chiropractors or acupuncture clinics. Pain management specialists will often incorporate a large team; medics, alternative medicine experts and other health professionals. In these clinics they will offer you assistance on dealing with your specific case, as with back pain, particularly the problem is different person to person.
By visiting these experts, you will be offered alternatives to traditional opioid treatment if it is better for you. There are also simple things you can do that don’t involve going to a doctor; changing the way you lift heavy objects, finding a more comfortable sleeping position, stretching or yoga, going for a walk around the office or altering your posture can all be real alternatives to pain relief medication. By making simple changes and removing the cause of the ongoing problem and taking steps to address it, the pain should become more manageable without needing medical treatment.
With the report claiming that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are as effective without opioids as with them, it is time to consider whether the use of opioids is relevant in lower back pain. With so many alternatives, it would appear not. By talking to a professional with other areas of expertise and taking simple steps yourself, you may be able to avoid using them.