Can chiropractic care lower your odds of opioid use? Researchers are saying that they can. People who are suffering from chronic back and neck pain may be less likely to use opioid painkillers if they receive chiropractic care. This is according to new research published in the journal Pain Medicine.
The researchers examined data from six previously-published smaller studies to test this hypothesis. The smaller studies had a total of more than 62,000 participants who all experienced varying degrees of spinal pain.
They found that across all of the studies, 11 percent to 51 percent of the patients used chiropractic care. People who visited a chiropractor to receive chiropractic treatment were significantly less likely to use opioids than people who didn’t. In fact, patients who used chiropractic care were 64 percent less likely to take prescription painkillers.
“Patients with spinal pain who visit a chiropractor may receive treatments such as spinal manipulation, massage, acupuncture, exercises and education as appropriate,” said lead author Kelsey Corcoran of Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut. “These therapies may lead to decreased pain, improved range of motion and increased function.”
The researchers reported: “If a patient’s pain is well controlled by the treatment they received from a chiropractor, they may subsequently need fewer pain medications or even none at all.”
Chiropractors do not prescribe opioids. However, the new research was also not clear on whether people already taking opioids for pain management would be able to cut back on opioids after getting chiropractic treatment.
In four of the six studies, chiropractors were either the first provider patients saw or part of the initial treatment plan for back or neck pain. The review had one limitation and that was the fact that the included studies did not specify what type of chiropractic care patients received.
“Patients visiting chiropractors are likely to be different than those visiting MDs in terms of their pain complexity,” said Dan Cherkin, an emeritus senior scientific investigator at Kaiser Permanente Health Research Institute in Seattle, Washington. “In general, I think that patients wishing to avoid Rx (especially opioid) would do well to seek care from providers who can provide potentially helpful alternatives to opioid treatments—this could include chiropractors, physical therapists, massage therapists, pain psychologists, yoga instructors, and mindfulness-based stress reduction classes, etc.”
It is important to note that Cherkin was not a part of the study. He added that these alternative options aren’t always available or covered by insurance, which is a potential obstacle for patients wanting to avoid opioids.
Right now there is an opioid epidemic that is causing around 130 deaths in the US every day—all of them involve opioid-related overdose. This is why many people are seeking healthier alternatives for pain management.
Organizations such as the Veterans Health Administration and the American College of Physicians recommend that patients try treatments delivered by doctors of chiropractic instead of opioids.
“The current study indicates that patients who follow these recommendations are, in fact, less likely to receive an opioid prescription,” said Christine Goertz, a researcher at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, who wasn’t involved in the study. “Treatments provided by a doctor of chiropractic, such as spinal manipulation, may decrease pain from muscle strain, inflammation and spasm in the back muscles and/or impact the way that the body perceives pain through either the brain or the spinal cord. Patients who find effective ways to treat their pain, such as chiropractic care, may be less likely to turn to opioids.”
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