Intended for healthcare professionals


Opioids for chronic musculoskeletal pain

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 06 July 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c3533
  1. Kate M Dunn, senior lecturer in epidemiology,
  2. Elaine M Hay, professor of community rheumatology
  1. 1Arthritis Research UK Primary Care Centre, Primary Care Sciences, Keele University, Staffordshire ST5 5BG
  1. k.m.dunn{at}

    Lack of evidence of benefit and the potential for harm should caution against their use

    Chronic musculoskeletal pain is common. Up to half the adult population has chronic pain at any one time, and two thirds of these have musculoskeletal problems.1 Chronic musculoskeletal conditions are persistent, debilitating, often characterised by substantial pain, but are non-fatal. In the United Kingdom, this equates to as many as 16 million adults with chronic musculoskeletal pain, around five million of whom will seek healthcare advice. Similar proportions of the population are affected in other developed countries.

    Treatments are available for people with chronic musculoskeletal pain. Analgesic drugs and physiotherapy, for example, can reduce pain in many people. The effects are often short lived, however, and the scope for preventing or alleviating long term pain is limited. Patients and clinicians continue to search for treatment that is safe and effective and alleviates short …

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