Physical Therapy May Be The Best Option For Acute Back & Neck Pain

Here’s yet another reason why you should seek out physical therapy treatment if you are experiencing acute back or neck pain (less than 6 weeks old).

If you are suffering from acute back or neck pain, you may want to think twice before reaching for prescription opioid painkillers. New research shows that opioids provide no significant pain relief compared to placebo for these common conditions.

The Study

The OPAL study, published in The Lancet, is the first large, placebo–controlled trial examining the efficacy of opioids for acute back and neck pain. Researchers in Australia recruited 347 patients with back or neck pain of less than 12 weeks duration.

Participants were randomly assigned to receive either an opioid painkiller (oxycodone–naloxone) or an identical placebo pill, along with recommended care, for up to 6 weeks.

Key Findings

  • At the 6–week mark, there was no significant difference in pain levels between the opioid and placebo groups. If anything, the placebo provided slightly better pain relief.

  • More participants in the opioid group experienced opioid–related side effects like constipation.

  • The placebo group reported better functioning and lower healthcare usage during the 12–month follow–up period.

Takeaways for Back and Neck Pain Sufferers

This well–designed study provides compelling evidence that opioids should not be a first choice for acute back or neck pain. The risks of side effects outweigh any potential benefits.

Instead, try these safer and often more effective approaches recommended by guidelines:

  • Over–the–counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen

  • Applying heat or ice to the painful area

  • Gentle stretches and exercises

  • Physical therapy modalities like ultrasound or massage

Of course, severe or worsening pain warrants a call to your healthcare provider. But for routine back and neck strains, opioids are not likely to help and could cause harm.

If you have any questions about managing your back or neck pain, feel free to contact our office. Our physical therapists can provide customized exercise and treatment plans to help get you feeling better fast.


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