Home | News | Opioids do little to ease joint pain for seniors

Opioids do little to ease joint pain for seniors

Older Australians with muscle and joint pain shouldn’t waste their time seeking a prescription for opioid medication to east their pain, new research suggests.

A University of Sydney study, published in the Journal of Pain, has shown that opioids provide patients with musculoskeletal pain who are 60 years and older little benefit, while significantly increasing their risk of serious side effects.

Researchers reviewed the efficacy and safety of prescription opioids across 24 international randomised controlled trials, comparing the effects of opioids to a placebo.

While opioids are one of the most common types of medication offered to patients with chronic knee, hip or lower pack pain, the study found they have a “small” or no clinical effect on reducing pain and improving function.

“Patients experienced around a seven per cent decrease in pain compared to placebo pills, which is considered too small to be of clinical importance. Only small improvements on physical function was found,” said author Associate Professor Manuela Ferreira, senior researcher at the Institute of Bone and Joint Research, Kolling Institute.

It was also found older people taking opioids for musculoskeletal pain were almost three times more likely to have an adverse event associated with treatment.

The most common effects were nausea, constipation, drowsiness, dizziness, headache and dry mouth.

“The impact of these side effects on the older patient can be very significant, leading to more serious events such as falls and confusion,” Ferreira said.

For this age group, Professor Ferreira recommends they try exercise and physical therapies to manage their pain.

“For this specific population, the benefits may not compensate for the risks that opioids can cause,” she said.

“Concerns about the safety of these medicines and the risk of overuse and opioid-related adverse events should also be considered by doctors when prescribing those medicines.”

Do you have an idea for a story?
Email [email protected]

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the top stories in our weekly newsletter Sign up now

One comment

  1. Like many older consumers these kind of research reports leave me very frustrated. The advice is don’t take opioids – try exercise they say – try physical therapies – no one suggests what to do if these don’t work – saw one report that said we need to learn to live with our pain.

    The fact is if our pain is severe perhaps many of us may not want to live – I saw one report to this effect just last wee.

    The implementation of the withdrawal of codeine based products over the counter at pharmacies has been appallingly managed, There has been no corresponding increase in the number of pain clinics the wait list for pain clinics remains the same and will continue to grow. Before it was implemented there was a lot of information re overdoses about these drugs. I wonder if we will see similar reports now on the increased prescribing of opioids by General Practitioners or the increase in suicides by consumers who are unable to obtain satisfactory pain relief.
    None of this has been about good primary health care – its all been about we are the doctor we know what is right for you.