For workers with chronic low-back pain, taking opioid pain medications can significantly improve their ability to lift and perform other work-related physical tasks, according to study published in The Journal of Pain, the peer review publication of the American Pain Society.

A team of Canadian researchers evaluated 30 patients with chronic low-back pain of more than 6 months duration. In the double-blinded, random-ordered, placebo-controlled trial, subjects performed a lifting test twice, once after receiving intravenous fentanyl and once after taking a placebo. The goal of the study was to examine the impact of acute opioid administration on repetitive lifting and lowering exercise in workers with low-back pain.

Low-back pain is a common cause of work absences and reduced productivity. While opioids appear to be effective for short term pain reduction, few clinical trials have been performed to evaluate their efficacy in the workplace.

Results of the study showed opioids improved lifting performance between 15 and 48%. The authors concluded the performance improvement was due to reduced pain intensity. Pain reduction, as measured by pain scales, was indicative of clinically relevant analgesia achieved by the medication.

While the authors said their results are consistent with a previously published study, the controlled laboratory environment for this trial is very different from actual workplace conditions. Therefore, longer trials are needed to measure the effectiveness of opioids as an adjunct to functional restoration programs for workers with low-back pain.

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[Source: Medical News Today]