Opioids are Not Much Better for Treating Chronic Pain Than a Placebo, Study Finds.

Pain relief medication is usually the first port of call when you’re in pain. Mild pain is commonly treated with non-opioid drugs, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Pain that is more severe or long-lasting (chronic) is typically treated with opioid medicine, such as codeine phosphate, tramadol, fentanyl or oxycodone. Opioid drugs work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and reduce the pain messages that are sent to the brain. In theory, opioids should work very well for chronic (long-lasting) pain. 
If you’ve gone to the GP because you’re in severe pain, it’s likely that you’ll come away with a prescription for an opioid medication. But opioid painkillers don’t treat the root cause of the problem, they merely mask it. Opioid painkillers may help you resume gentle exercise which may be all is needed to improve your pain, but if there is an underlying problem which means your pain is not going to get better from regular exercise alone, painkillers should not be used as a long term solution when there are plenty of treatment options available. 
Opioid painkillers can also have unpleasant side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, constipation, dizziness, dry mouth and sedation. Many people have been told that when it comes to something like back or joint pain, painkillers are the only option and they have to take them for prolonged periods. Prolonged use of opioids can actually really decrease a person’s quality of life. 
A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association analysed over 100 studies on the effect of opioids and non-cancer pain. The studies compared opioids to a placebo, as well as other painkillers. The researches concluded that opioids are only slightly better than a placebo when it comes to treating pain and provide similar benefits to anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen. The placebo effect in itself is quite powerful, and this needs to be taken into account when assessing this information, but if opioids are not much better at treating pain than ibuprofen, why are so many people prescribed them?
According to a study in The British Medical Journal (Fayaz, Croft, Langford, Donaldson & Jones), chronic pain affects between one third and one half of the population of the UK. This corresponds to just under 28 million adults and this figure is likely to increase due to our ageing population. That’s an awful lot of people who need treatment. When something is especially prevalent or common, we can develop the attitude that something is just part of life, and is to be accepted. If you personally know a handful of people who have chronic pain and take opioid painkillers long term, it’s natural to assume that this is just a road you need to go down. 
We have a different belief when it comes to painkillers. Even if opioids worked much better than a placebo, it still only covers up the problem and there are still side effects to take into account. We’re not anti-painkiller, but we have successfully treated so many people who were told that surgery or prolonged opioid use was their only option. You can take a look at some of our success story videos and see for yourself some of the results we’ve had. 
We are able to treat our clients with our IDD therapy, Theraflex handset, acupuncture, massage or good old fashioned hands-on physio, so we know first hand that chronic pain should never be something you just accept as inevitable. 
We are currently offering free assessments to new patients at our clinic, you can book your 30-minute free assessment here, get to the bottom of what could be causing your pain and discover what your potential treatment options are. 

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The Author

Lewis Payne

Lewis graduated from The University of Nottingham in 2013 with a First Class Honours in Physiotherapy, worked as Sheffield F.C.’s first team Physiotherapist, and now runs a leading-edge private clinic in Sheffield. With over ten years of experience, he specialises in manual therapy, advanced technological treatments, and exercise-based approaches, focusing on spinal and joint conditions, sports injuries, and specifically complex spinal issues like disc pathology and scoliosis. Lewis leads in IDD Therapy, performing over 6000 treatments, offers MRI referrals and reviews, and employs a holistic treatment philosophy viewing the body as a Tensegrity structure. He excels in postural analysis, soft tissue release techniques, and prescribes biomechanical corrective exercises to enhance natural movement.