Roughly one-third of Americans live with chronic pain, and the large number of opioids doctors prescribe to treat that pain is a significant factor behind the country’s growing opioid epidemic. However, recent research shows opioids are no better for the treatment of chronic back pain and arthritis than nonopioid medications.1 In fact, according to Erin Krebs, MD, a primary care physician and researcher at the Minneapolis VA Health Care System, “drugs of any kind are the lesser choice for the vast majority of patients.”
In an article published on April 6, 2018, NPR writes, “There’s a growing consensus among pain specialists that a low-tech approach focused on lifestyle changes can be more effective.” In addition, Krebs says “The gold standard for treatment is a combination of things like exercise, rehabilitation therapies, yoga and cognitive behavioral therapies.”
Her approach is in line with recent guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which state “Nonpharmacologic therapy and nonopioid pharmacologic therapy are preferred for chronic pain. Clinicians should consider opioid therapy only if expected benefits for both pain and function are anticipated to outweigh risks to the patient. If opioids are used, they should be combined with nonpharmacologic therapy and nonopioid pharmacologic therapy, as appropriate.”
More health-care providers and pain treatment centers are embracing this approach. At the OSF Central Illinois Pain Center in Peoria, Illinois, a combination of physical and occupational therapy, massage, and nutrition counseling is used.