Opioids and Joint Pain Management: What You Need to Know

Recent news has shone a light on the increased rates of opioid abuse in the United States and led responsible physicians to reexamine their prescription practices. Dr. Scott is no exception. As an orthopedic specialist, whose concern is to help his patients manage their joint pain safely and effectively, Dr. Scott focuses on ensuring that they understand the benefits and risks of all treatment plans.

As a result of a March 2014 study, Osteoarthritis Research Society International (OARSI) updated its recommendations for pain management in osteoarthritis patients. Even five years ago, OARSI found that, despite their ability to reduce pain, the negative side effects of opioid and narcotic analgesics were so prevalent that the organization could not recommend them as a standard form of arthritis pain treatment.

A May 2019 study published in Pain Medicine has since confirmed and emphasized OARSI’s doubts, reporting that osteoarthritis patients who were prescribed opioids for pain management before surgery were found to be at risk of higher infection rates after surgery, as well as longer hospital stays, higher readmission rates, and lower opioid cessation rates, compared to patients who only began to take prescribed opioids in the period immediately following surgery.

The good news is that, in itself, the risk associated with opioids such as hydrocodone, often prescribed to post-op patients after total joint replacements, is low. If patients have no prior opioid use, as many as 95% of patients will have ceased opioid use for pain management after 18 months, and they recover from surgery with fewer complications, infections, or corrective procedures. On the other hand, the research strongly indicates that osteoarthritis patients should consider carefully before accepting opioid prescriptions for chronic pain management, as the risks may notably outweigh the benefits. 

Are you feeling uncertain about the best way to manage the pain associated with your osteoarthritis? Consider making an appointment with Orthopedic Specialty Clinic to discuss the many safe options available to you.