For specific recommendations, see NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Anti-inflammatories are the traditional first line of treatment, to reduce pain so activity and functional restoration can resume, but long-term use may not be warranted. (Van Tulder-Cochrane, 2000) A comprehensive review of clinical trials on the efficacy and safety of drugs for the treatment of low back pain concludes that available evidence supports the effectiveness of non-selective nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in acute and chronic LBP, of muscle relaxants in acute LBP, and of antidepressants in chronic LBP. (Schnitzer, 2004) See also Nonprescription Medications. COX-2 inhibitors (e.g., Celebrex) may be considered if the patient has a risk of GI complications, but not for the majority of patients. Generic NSAIDs and COX-2 inhibitors have similar efficacy and risks when used for less than 3 months, but a 10-to-1 difference in cost. (Rate of overall GI bleeding is 3% with COX-2’s versus 4.5% with ibuprofen.) (Homik, 2003) For precautions in specific patient populations, see NSAIDs, GI symptoms & cardiovascular risk.
See Muscle relaxants.
See CRPS, sympathetic and epidural blocks. See also Muscle relaxants
Barbiturate-containing analgesic agents (BCAs)
Not recommended for chronic pain. The potential for drug dependence is high and no evidence exists to show a clinically important enhancement of analgesic efficacy of BCAs due to the barbiturate constituents. (McLean, 2000) Fioricet is commonly used for acute headache, with some data to support it, but there is a risk of medication overuse as well as rebound headache. (Friedman, 1987).See also Opioids
Recommended. The identification and reinforcement of coping skills is often more useful in the treatment of pain than ongoing medication or therapy, which could lead to psychological or physical dependence.
Not recommended for long-term use because long-term efficacy is unproven and there is a risk of dependence. Most guidelines limit use to 4 weeks. Their range of action includes sedative/hypnotic, anxiolytic, anticonvulsant, and muscle relaxant. Chronic benzodiazepines are the treatment of choice in very few conditions. Tolerance to hypnotic effects develops rapidly. Tolerance to anxiolytic effects occurs within months and long-term use may actually increase anxiety. A more appropriate treatment for anxiety disorder is an antidepressant. Tolerance to anticonvulsant and muscle relaxant effects occurs within weeks. (Baillargeon, 2003) (Ashton, 2005)
Not recommended as a stand-alone treatment, but recommended as an option in a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) program to facilitate exercise therapy and return to activity. There is fairly good evidence that biofeedback helps in back muscle strengthening, but evidence is insufficient to demonstrate the effectiveness of biofeedback for treatment of chronic pain. Biofeedback may be approved if it facilitates entry into a CBT treatment program, where there is strong evidence of success. As with yoga, since outcomes from biofeedback are very dependent on the highly motivated self-disciplined patient, we recommend approval only when requested by such a patient, but not adoption for use by any patient. EMG biofeedback may be used as part of a behavioral treatment program, with the assumption that the ability to reduce muscle tension will be improved through feedback of data regarding degree of muscle tension to the subject. The potential benefits of biofeedback include pain reduction because the patient may gain a feeling that he is in control and pain is a manageable symptom. Biofeedback techniques are likely to use surface EMG feedback so the patient learns to control the degree of muscle contraction. The available evidence does not clearly show whether biofeedback's effects exceed nonspecific placebo effects. It is also unclear whether biofeedback adds to the effectiveness of relaxation training alone. The application of biofeedback to patients with CRPS is not well researched. However, based on CRPS symptomology, temperature or skin conductance feedback modalities may be of particular interest. (Keefe, 1981) (Nouwen, 1983) (Bush, 1985) (Croce, 1986) (Stuckey, 1986) (Asfour, 1990) (Altmaier, 1992) (Flor, 1993) (Newton-John, 1995) (Spence, 1995) (Vlaeyen, 1995) (NIH-JAMA, 1996) (van Tulder, 1997) (Buckelew, 1998) (Hasenbring, 1999) (Dursun, 2001) (van Santen, 2002) (Astin, 2002) (State, 2002) (BlueCross BlueShield, 2004) This recent report on 11 chronic whiplash patients found that, after 4 weeks of myofeedback training, there was a trend for decreased disability in 36% of the patients. The authors recommended a randomized-controlled trial to further explore the effects of myofeedback training. (Voerman, 2006).
Biofeedback therapy guidelines:
Screen for patients with risk factors for delayed recovery, as well as motivation to comply with a treatment regimen that requires self-discipline.
Initial therapy for these “at risk” patients should be physical therapy exercise instruction, using a cognitive motivational approach to PT.
Possibly consider biofeedback referral in conjunction with CBT after 4 weeks:
- Initial trial of 3-4 psychotherapy visits over 2 weeks
- With evidence of objective functional improvement, total of up to 6-10 visits over 5-6 weeks (individual sessions)
- Patients may continue biofeedback exercises at home
Boswellia Serrata Resin (Frankincense) [DWC]
Boswellia Serrata Resin (Frankincense) is not recommended for chronic pain.
Botulinum toxin (Botox)
Not recommended for chronic pain disorders, but recommended for cervical dystonia. See more details below.
Not recommended for the following: headache; fibromyositis; chronic low back pain; chronic neck pain; myofascial pain syndrome; & trigger point injections. Several recent studies have found no statistical support for the use of Botulinum toxin A (BTX-A) for any of the following:
- Myofascial analgesic pain relief as compared to saline. (Qerama, 2006)
- Use as a specific treatment for myofascial cervical pain as compared to saline. (Ojala, 2006) (Ferrante, 2005) (Wheeler, 1998)
- Injection in myofascial trigger points as compared to dry needling or local anesthetic injections. (Kamanli, 2005) (Graboski, 2005).
Recent systematic reviews have stated that current evidence does not support the use of BTX-A trigger point injections for myofascial pain. (Ho, 2006) Or for mechanical neck disease (as compared to saline). (Peloso-Cochrane, 2006) There is one recent study that has found statistical improvement with the use of BTX-A compared to saline. Study patients had at least 10 trigger points and no patient in the study was allowed to take an opioid in the 4 weeks prior to treatment. (Gobel, 2006), And Some additional new data also suggests that it may be effective for low back pain. (Jabbari, 2006) (Ney, 2006)
Recommended: cervical dystonia, a condition that is not generally related to workers’ compensation injuries (also known as spasmodic torticolis), and is characterized as a movement disorder of the nuchal muscles, characterized by tremor or by tonic posturing of the head in a rotated, twisted, or abnormally flexed or extended position or some combination of these positions. When treated with BTX-B, high antigenicity limits long-term efficacy. Botulinum toxin A injections provide more objective and subjective benefit than trihexyphenidyl or other anticholinergic drugs to patients with cervical dystonia.
See Antidepressants for Neuropathic pain
Not recommended. In total, 11 states have approved the use of medical marijuana for the treatment of chronic pain, but there are no quality controlled clinical data with cannabinoids. Restricted legal access to Schedule I drugs, such as marijuana, tends to hamper research in this area. It is also very hard to do controlled studies with a drug that is psychoactive because it is hard to blind these effects. At this time it is difficult to justify advising patients to smoke street-grade marijuana, presuming that they will experience benefit, when they may also be harmed. (Mackie, 2007) (Moskowitz, 2007)
Capsaicin, topical [ODG]
Recommended only as an option in patients who have not responded or are intolerant to other treatments.
Formulations: Capsaicin is generally available as a 0.025% formulation (as a treatment for osteoarthritis) and a 0.075% formulation (primarily studied for post-herpetic neuralgia, diabetic neuropathy and post-mastectomy pain). There have been no studies of a 0.0375% formulation of capsaicin and there is no current indication that this increase over a 0.025% formulation would provide any further efficacy.
Indications: There are positive randomized studies with capsaicin cream in patients with osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and chronic non-specific back pain, but it should be considered experimental in very high doses. Although topical capsaicin has moderate to poor efficacy, it may be particularly useful (alone or in conjunction with other modalities) in patients whose pain has not been controlled successfully with conventional therapy. The number needed to treat in musculoskeletal conditions was 8.1. The number needed to treat for neuropathic conditions was 5.7. (Mason-BMJ, 2004) (Keitel, 2001) (Robbins, 2000)
Mechanism of action: Capsaicin, which is derived from chili peppers, causes vasodilation, itching, and burning when applied to the skin. These actions are attributed to binding with nociceptors, which causes a period of enhanced sensitivity followed by a refractory period of reduced sensitivity. Topical capsaicin is superior to placebo in relieving chronic neuropathic and musculoskeletal pain. Capsaicin produces highly selective regional anesthesia by causing degeneration of capsaicin-sensitive nociceptive nerve endings, which can produce significant and long lasting increases in nociceptive thresholds. (Maroon, 2006)
Adverse reactions: Local adverse reactions were common (one out of three patients) but seldom serious (burning, stinging, erythema). Coughing has also been reported. . See also CRPS, medications; Diabetic neuropathy; & Topical analgesics.
See Anti-epilepsy drugs (AEDs) for general guidelines, as well as specific Carbamazepine listing.
See Muscle relaxants.
See Anti-inflammatory medications
See Manual therapy & manipulation
See Glucosamine (and Chondroitin Sulfate).
Chronic pain programs
Recommended where there is access to programs with proven successful outcomes, for patients with conditions that put them at risk of delayed recovery. Patients should also be motivated to improve and return to work, and meet the patient selection criteria outlined below. Also called Multidisciplinary pain programs or Interdisciplinary rehabilitation programs, these pain rehabilitation programs combine multiple treatments, and at the least, include psychological care along with physical therapy (including an active exercise component as opposed to passive modalities). While recommended, the research remains ongoing as to (1) what is considered the “gold-standard” content for treatment; (2) the group of patients that benefit most from this treatment; (3) the ideal timing of when to initiate treatment; (4) the intensity necessary for effective treatment; and (5) cost-effectiveness. It has been suggested that interdisciplinary/multidisciplinary care models for treatment of chronic pain may be the most effective way to treat this condition. (Flor, 1992) (Gallagher, 1999) (Guzman, 2001) (Gross, 2005) (Sullivan, 2005) (Dysvik, 2005) (Airaksinen, 2006) (Schonstein, 2003) (Sanders, 2005) (Patrick, 2004) (Buchner, 2006) Unfortunately, being a claimant may be a predictor of poor long-term outcomes. (Robinson, 2004) These treatment modalities are based on the biopsychosocial model, one that views pain and disability in terms of the interaction between physiological, psychological and social factors. (Gatchel, 2005) There appears to be little scientific evidence for the effectiveness of multidisciplinary biopsychosocial rehabilitation compared with other rehabilitation facilities for neck and shoulder pain, as opposed to low back pain and generalized pain syndromes. (Karjalainen, 2003)
Types of programs: There is no one universal definition of what comprises interdisciplinary/multidisciplinary treatment. The most commonly referenced programs have been defined in the following general ways (Stanos, 2006):
(1) Multidisciplinary programs: Involves one or two specialists directing the services of a number of team members, with these specialists often having independent goals. These programs can be further subdivided into four levels of pain programs:
(a) Multidisciplinary pain centers (generally associated with academic centers and include research as part of their focus)
(b) Multidisciplinary pain clinics
(c) Pain clinics
(d) Modality-oriented clinics
(2) Interdisciplinary pain programs: Involves a team approach that is outcome focused and coordinated and offers goal-oriented interdisciplinary services. Communication on a minimum of a weekly basis is emphasized. The most intensive of these programs is referred to as a Functional Restoration Program, with a major emphasis on maximizing function versus minimizing pain. See Functional restoration programs.
Types of treatment: Components suggested for interdisciplinary care include the following services delivered in an integrated fashion: (a) physical treatment; (b) medical care and supervision; (c) psychological and behavioral care; (d) psychosocial care; (e) vocational rehabilitation and training; and (f) education.
Predictors of success and failure: As noted, one of the criticisms of interdisciplinary/multidisciplinary rehabilitation programs is the lack of an appropriate screening tool to help to determine who will most benefit from this treatment. Retrospective research has examined decreased rates of completion of functional restoration programs, and there is ongoing research to evaluate screening tools prior to entry. (Gatchel, 2006) The following variables have been found to be negative predictors of efficacy of treatment with the programs as well as negative predictors of completion of the programs: (1) a negative relationship with the employer/supervisor; (2) poor work adjustment and satisfaction; (3) a negative outlook about future employment; (4) high levels of psychosocial distress (higher pretreatment levels of depression, pain and disability); (5) involvement in financial disability disputes; (6) greater rates of smoking; (7) duration of pre-referral disability time; (8) prevalence of opioid use; and (9) pre-treatment levels of pain. (Linton, 2001) (Bendix, 1998) (McGeary, 2006) (McGeary, 2004) (Gatchel2, 2005) See also Chronic pain programs, early intervention; Chronic pain programs, intensity; Chronic pain programs, opioids; and Functional restoration programs.
Criteria for the general use of multidisciplinary pain management programs:
Outpatient pain rehabilitation programs may be considered medically necessary when all of the following criteria are met:
(1) An adequate and thorough evaluation has been made, including baseline functional testing so follow-up with the same test can note functional improvement; (2) Previous methods of treating the chronic pain have been unsuccessful; (3) The patient has a significant loss of ability to function independently resulting from the chronic pain; (4) The patient is not a candidate where surgery would clearly be warranted; (5) The patient exhibits motivation to change, and is willing to forgo secondary gains, including disability payments to effect this change; & (6) Negative predictors of success above have been addressed.
Integrative summary reports that include treatment goals, progress assessment and stage of treatment, must be made available upon request and at least on a bi-weekly basis during the course of the treatment program. Treatment is not suggested for longer than 2 weeks without evidence of demonstrated efficacy as documented by subjective and objective gains.
Inpatient pain rehabilitation programs: These programs typically consist of more intensive functional rehabilitation and medical care than their outpatient counterparts. They may be appropriate for patients who: (1) don’t have the minimal functional capacity to participate effectively in an outpatient program; (2) have medical conditions that require more intensive oversight; (3) are receiving large amounts of medications necessitating medication weaning or detoxification; or (4) have complex medical or psychological diagnosis that benefit from more intensive observation and/or additional consultation during the rehabilitation process. (Keel, 1998) (Kool, 2005) (Buchner, 2006) (Kool, 2007) As with outpatient pain rehabilitation programs, the most effective programs combine intensive, daily biopsychosocial rehabilitation with a functional restoration approach.
(BlueCross BlueShield, 2004) (Aetna, 2006) See Functional restoration programs
Clonidine, Intrathecal [DWC]
Recommended. The evidence supports the use of intrathecal clonidine alone or in conjunction with opioids (e.g., morphine) and local anesthetics (e.g., bupivicaine) in the treatment of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome/Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (CRPS/RSD). Intrathecal clonidine can also be used in conjunction with opioids for neuropathic pain. There is no evidence that intrathecal clonidine alone is effective in the treatment of pain after spinal cord surgery. There are no studies that address the use of intrathecal clonidine beyond 18 months.
Cod liver oil [DWC]
Cod liver oil is not recommended for chronic pain.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
See Psychological treatment. See also Multi-disciplinary pain programs
See Low level laser therapy (LLLT).
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)
Recommended only as indicated below. Most medications have limited effectiveness. (Ribbers, 2003) (Quisel2, 2005)
1. Regional inflammatory reaction: Commonly used drugs are NSAIDS, corticosteroids and free-radical scavengers. There is some evidence of efficacy and little likelihood for harm for topical DMSO cream, IV bisphosphonates and limited courses of oral corticosteroids. Corticosteroids are most effective when positive response is obtained with sympathetic blocks. NSAIDs are recommended but no trails have shown effectiveness in CRPS-I, and they are recommended primarily in early or very late stages. (Stanton-Hicks, 2004) (Sharma, 2006)
2. Stimulus-independent pain: The use of antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and opioids has been primarily extrapolated based on use for other neuropathic pain disorders. (See Antidepressants for neuropathic pain; Anticonvulsants for chronic pain; & Opioids for neuropathic pain.) Mexiletine (oral lidocaine), lidocaine patches and capsaicin are used but efficacy is not convincing. For central inhibition opiates, gabapentin, TCAs, GABA-enhancing drugs, and clonidine may be useful.
3. Stimulus-evoked pain: treatment is aimed at central sensitization. With NMDA receptor antagonists (ketamine and amantadine) convincing controlled trials are lacking, and these drugs are known for their side effects.
4. Sympathetically maintained pain (SMP): α1 adrenoceptor blocking agents (terazosin, prazocin, and phenoxybenzamine) have been shown to be effective in a case report. (Ghostine, 1984) Sympathetic suppressors such as guanethadine, reserpine, droperidol, or atropine (in general or IV block) have shown low effectiveness. (Perez, 2001) (Quisel2, 2005) Phentolamine (IV) has been used as an alternative to determine responsiveness to α1 adrenoceptor blocking agents. See also Sympathetically maintained pain (SMP).
5. Treatment of bone resorption with bisphosphonate-type compounds and calcitonin. Signifcant improvement has been found in limited studies of intravenous clodronate and intravenous alendronate. Adendronate given in oral doses of 40 mg a day (over an 8 week period) produced improvements in pain, pressure tolerance and joint moblity. (Manicourt DH, 2004) Mixed results have been found with intranasal calcitonin. (Sahin, 2005) (Appelboom, 2002) (Rowbathan, 2006) (Sharma, 2006)
Recommended as indicated below. Some cases of CRPS-I may be preventable. Post-stroke upper extremity hemiplegia (also known as shoulder-hand syndrome) may be prevented by early inpatient rehabilitation and avoidance of shoulder trauma to the affected arm. Post-fracture CRPS-I may be prevented with 500 mg vitamin C daily started upon diagnosis of fracture and continued through healing. (Quisel2, 2005)
CRPS, spinal cord stimulators (SCS)
Recommended as indicated below. Spinal cord stimulators (SCS) should be offered only after careful counseling and patient identification and should be used in conjunction with comprehensive multidisciplinary medical management. CRPS patients implanted with SCS reported pain relief of at least 50% over a median follow-up period of 33 months. SCS use has been associated with pain reduction in studies of patients with with CRPS. Moreover, there is evidence to demonstrate that SCS is a cost-effective treatment for CRPS-I over the long term. (Taylor, 2006) (Stanton-Hicks, 2006) (Mailis-Gagnon-Cochrane, 2004) (Kemler, 2000) Permanent pain relief in CRPS-I can be attained under long-term SCS therapy combined with physical therapy. (Harke, 2005) See Spinal cord stimulators (SCS).
Not recommended. The practice of surgical and chemical sympathectomy is based on poor quality evidence, uncontrolled studies and personal experience. Furthermore, complications of the procedure may be significant, in terms of both worsening the pain or producing a new pain syndrome; and abnormal forms of sweating (compensatory hyperhidrosis and pathological gustatory sweating). Therefore, more clinical trials of sympathectomy are required to establish the overall effectiveness and potential risks of this procedure. (Furlan, 2000) (Mailis-Cochrane, 2003) Sympathectomy is destruction of part of the sympathetic nervous system, and it is not generally accepted or widely used. Long-term success with this pain relief treatment is poor. Indications: Single extremity CRPS-I or SMP; distal pain only (should not be done if the proximal extremity is involved). Local anesthetic Stellate Ganglion Block or Lumbar Sympathetic Block consistently gives 90 to 100 percent relief each time a technically good block is performed (with measured rise in temperature). The procedure may be considered for individuals who have limited duration of relief from blocks. Permanent neurological complications are common. (State, 2002)
CRPS, sympathetic and epidural blocks
Recommended when used for symptom relief and to demonstrate sympathetically maintained pain (SMP). (Stanton-Hicks, 2004) A systematic review revealed a paucity of published evidence supporting the use of local anesthetic sympathetic blocks for the treatment of CRPS. (Cepeda, 2005) Regional sympathetic blocks are used for (1) Upper extremity: Stellate ganglion blocks or laparoscopic blocks; or (2) Lower extremity: Lumbar sympathetic block. Signs of a successful block: Temperature rise to 35°; Sympathetic skin response using modified ECG; Cold pressor test; Laser Doppler flowmetry. This type of evaluation is important, especially if the block is unsuccessful in eliminating pain in order to determine if a complete block was performed. A sensory examination should also be completed in patients with pain relief. Local anesthetic can also result in somatic block that can affect pain. Pain relief may also be due to systemic uptake of local anesthetic or a placebo effect. (Grabow, 2005) Evaluating and treating results should include: (1) Complete elimination of pain: consider prolonged neurolytic block; consider the use of a α1 adrenoceptor blocker such as terazosin; & (2) Current suggested guidelines suggest that a maximum sustained benefit is obtained after 3 to 6 blocks when used in addition to PT. (Washington, 2002) (Stanton-Hicks, 2006) They also state that even if the original site is unresponsive, future exacerbations of CRPS at the same site or distant site may respond to 1 to 3 blocks. (Washington, 2002) Alternatives to regional sympathetic blocks may be necessary when there is evidence of coagulopathy, systemic infection, and/or post-surgical changes. These include peripheral nerve and plexus blocks and epidural administration of local anesthetics. Mixed conduction blocks (central neural blocks) are suggested when analgesia is insufficient by pharmacologic means to support physical therapy: (1) Implanted catheters at the brachial or lumbosacral plexus: allows for 1 to 2 weeks of therapy. Side effects include technical failure and infection; & (2) Epidural tunneled catheters: allows for long-term therapy: Side effects: same as above. Clonidine has also been effective epidurally. (Stanton-Hicks, 2006) Baclofen has been demonstrated to be effective intrathecally to reduce dystonia. (van Hilten, 2000) IV regional sympathetic blocks are controversial due to varying success. Guanethadine was used, but is no longer available in the US. Bretylium and reserpine require daily blocks, and have potential side effects of transient syncope with apnea, orthostatic hypotension, pain with administration, nausea and vomiting. Bretylium provided a 30% improvement in pain compared to placebo. Due to modest benefits and the invasiveness of the therapies, epidural clonidine injection and intravenous regional sympathetic block with bretylium should be offered only after careful counseling, and they should be followed by intensive physical therapy. Intravenous regional sympathetic block (Bier's block, 25 sessions) with guanethidine and lidocaine resulted in excellent pain relief and full restoration of both function and range of movement of the affected extremity in patients suffering from CRPS-I of the hand. (Paraskevas, 2005) Local or systemic parecoxib combined with lidocaine/clonidine IV regional analgesia is an effective treatment for CRPS-I in a dominant upper limb. (Frade, 2005) See also Sympathetically maintained pain (SMP).