The Role for Non-Pharmacologic Treatment of Musculoskeletal Pain

A Policy Statement from Northwestern Health Sciences University

Since opioid misuse became the focus of urgent national attention, the effort has been primarily directed toward opioid prescribing practices, emergency care in the event of overdose, and access to drug treatment programs. While these proximal measures to combat opioid misuse are enacted, the underlying causes for opioid misuse remain largely unaddressed. Importantly, this includes 1 in 3 Americans who experience a chronic pain problem that is inadequately or inappropriately treated.

Among the most common causes of pain are musculoskeletal conditions, most notably back pain. Back pain is the leading cause of years lived with disability in the US, and is one of the most common reasons adults seek healthcare. Unfortunately, it remains a leading cause for opioid prescriptions1 with over half of regular opioid users reporting back pain. (2) This is worrisome not only because of the overuse of opioid analgesics, but because these prescribing habits persist in spite of a complete lack of evidence showing effectiveness for common back complaints. (3) The mismanagement of back pain with opioids has been identified as a major public health concern by the international spine care community. (4, 5)