While opioids may alleviate pain in some chronic pain patients, their effectiveness when it comes to restoring physical function in patients with neuropathic pain could be considered finite.
Published in Pain Medicine, a new study, conducted by researchers from the University of Alberta, revealed that prescription painkillers—such as morphine, codeine and Tylenol 3—do not provide additional improvements in physical function in patients with neuropathic pain.
Reviewing 789 patients from Canada who provided baseline measures of self-reported function—and again at six and 12 months after treatment—the study’s researchers concluded that “physical functioning and disability did not improve in patients with neuropathic pain who were prescribed opioids compared with those who were not prescribed.”
Via email, study author Geoff Bostick, associate professor of physical therapy at the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, recognized that opioid therapy has a role in managing pain in both chronic and complex pain conditions, “but their capacity to improve physical function is limited.”
“These data should also serve as a reminder for clinicians that medication (or any treatment) that is intended to reduce pain may not be addressing other factors such as activity levels,” he said. “There are other factors involved such beliefs about pain and activity, physical capacity and mood, to name a few.”
The belief that painkillers can improve physical functions in patients with chronic pain could be attributed to the way society views medicine in general.
“All of the wonderful advancements in medicine likely lead many people to expect that a powerful pain medication should ease my pain—resumption of improved physical function should follow,” Bostick said. “It is not that simple for many people. In some way this is good news—if pain, by definition, cannot be abolished for sufferers of chronic and complex pain, it is good to know there is more to more activity and living better than reducing pain intensity. Activity can be increased, despite pain.”