Opioid drugs like Vicodin and oxycodone have a reputation as being really strong painkillers. After all, if they are that addictive…they must get rid of the pain, right?
A definitive new study shows that’s bunk. They actually provide less pain relief than over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen and Tylenol.1
The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.2 It involved 234 patients from Minneapolis-area VA clinics. The patients were experiencing hip or knee arthritis, or stubborn back pain. They were randomly assigned to use either generic versions of opioids or non-opioid drugs for a year.
The opioid patients started on low doses of morphine, oxycodone, or generic Vicodin. They switched to higher doses, long-acting opioids, or fentanyl patches if needed. (Few patients needed the most potent opioids.)
The non-opioid group started on acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or similar anti-inflammatory drugs. Some took prescription pills for nerve or muscle pain.
Researchers found that the patients taking opioids struggled just as much to walk or sleep as those taking over-the-counter drugs. But this wasn’t the only surprising finding of the study…
Opioids Relieved Less Pain Than Over-The-Counter Pills
In fact, the non-opioid drugs worked better for pain relief. Patients reported changes in function or pain on questionnaires. Function was scored on an 11-point scale, with higher scores meaning worse function. Both groups started out with average pain and function scores of about 5.5 points.
Pain intensity dropped about two points in the non-opioid group and slightly less in the opioid groups.
Most study participants were men, but the results in women were similar.
Dr. David Reuben is geriatrics chief at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “This is a very important study,” he says. “It will likely change the approach to managing long-term back, hip, and knee pain.”3
Other research shows that over-the-counter medicines can also work as well as opioids for treating short-term pain. That includes broken bones, kidney stones or dental work.
Dr. Erin Krebs led this new study. He’s a physician and researcher with the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System. He said the results would likely surprise people “because opioids have this reputation as being really powerful painkillers, and that is not what we found.”
If they don’t work better than less risky drugs, there’s no reason to use opioids given “their really nasty side effects—death and addiction,” he added.
8 Natural Ways to Relieve Your Pain
Many people get hooked while taking opioids for injuries or other short-term pain. But there are side effect-free natural remedies that can offer just as much—if not more—relief:
- Cut Inflammatory Foods: Eating the right foods can decrease inflammation… But eating the wrong foods can have an even more powerful—and negative—effect. Processed foods, sugars, grain, alcohol, and MSG may keep your from healing. Try a simple elimination diet for two weeks. Remove some of the worst offenders and see if it improves your pain. If it works, make the change permanent.
- Exercise: You may not feel much like moving around when have back pain. But almost any kind of exercise can help heal your back. Slowly stretching your back muscles can reduce back spasm and pain. Yoga works particularly well. One study found that people who exercise four or more times per week have nearly 30% less back pain.
- Take Krill Oil: Research shows a krill oil supplement can reduce inflammation by up to 20% in just one.4 Krill oil also gives you a dose of astaxanthin. This potent antioxidant is 65-times more powerful than vitamin C at fighting inflammation. Take a 300-mg dose of a quality krill oil supplement once a day.
- Take a Stand: Sitting down for too long puts stress on your piriformis muscle. It starts at the lower spine and connects to the upper surface of each femur (thighbone). Prolonged sitting can lead to piriformis syndrome. This condition has many of the same symptoms as a slipped disk. It can even cause nerve damage if you don’t treat it.5> But there’s a simple solution: stand up for five minutes or so every hour.Standing takes the stress off your back—and your piriformis muscle. One study found that people who stayed standing in the morning had 23% less lower back pain.
- Eat Tart Cherries: One study found that eating about 20 tart cherries fights inflammatory pain as well or better than a pain-relieving drug.6 If you can’t find organic tart cherries in your supermarket, look for tart cherry extract. It’s widely available online or in health food stores.
- Take Willow Bark: This ancient natural remedy contains salicin. It’s the same compound in aspirin that relieves pain and inflammation.7 Besides lower back pain, it’s effective against menstrual cramps, fever, flu, tendonitis, bursitis, and osteoarthritis. Take 1-3 grams.
- Apply Capsaicin: It’s what gives peppers their heat. Many back pain sufferers apply a topical capsaicin ointment during flare-ups.
- Get a Massage: More than half the participants in a study reported clinically meaningful improvements in their low back pain from massages. It could likely help with hip and other muscle pain as well. Choosing the right licensed massage therapist is crucial. It’s best to find someone with experience healing pain where you’re experiencing it. The American Massage Therapy Association is the largest non-profit professional association. Its website can help you find licensed massage therapists in your area.
Editor’s Note: These aren’t the only natural, drug-free ways to relieve your pain…
Discover the ocean oil that one study found cut inflammation in half after one month… The desert herb that may replace pain prescriptions for both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis… And the “magic” formula—with just three ingredients—that helped almost 70% of patients become pain-free in three months.
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