Prescription opioids might not be as effective in treating lower back pain as perceived, a new study has found.

Lower back pain is a common issue that affects approximately 540 million people worldwide. In the United States, around 80 million workers, comprising 50% of the workforce, experience at least one episode of lower back pain each year.

According to the clinical guidelines of the North American Spine Society, when it comes to treating lower back pain, physicians are advised to exercise caution and restrict the use of opioids to a short duration. Opioid medications should be recommended only after other pharmacological treatments have proven ineffective or if the patient is unable to take alternative medications for personal reasons.

Despite there being "no evidence of their efficacy in reducing pain, opioid pain relievers are still widely prescribed for people with lower back and neck pain in many countries," study author Christine Lin, a professor at the Institute for Musculoskeletal Health at the University of Sydney in Australia, told CNN.

The latest study, published in the journal Lancet, involved 310 people seeking treatment for neck or lower back pain and compared the effectiveness of opioids to a placebo. The participants were divided into two groups, with one receiving opioids and the other receiving a placebo pill. After six weeks of treatment, there was no significant difference in pain reduction between the two groups. Furthermore, the group that received opioids experienced more adverse effects and poorer mental health scores compared to the placebo group.

The findings suggest that opioids may not offer substantial pain relief for neck and lower back pain and can potentially lead to negative side effects. These results highlight the need for alternative approaches to managing such pain and the importance of cautious prescribing practices for opioids.

The study indicates that opioids have minimal or negligible impact in addressing acute lower back pain. Furthermore, researchers express concerns about the potential risks associated with these medications.

"Instead, doctors should be encouraged to focus on patient-centred approaches that could include advice to stay active, and simple pain relievers," Lin added. "The good news is most people with acute low back pain and neck pain recover within 6 weeks naturally."