While chronic opioid use among patients with musculoskeletal pain declined overall, the risk for chronic use was highest among those with low back and multiple anatomical site pain, according to findings published in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Musculoskeletal pain is a common condition, and patients who have it may transition to chronic opioid use,” Jasmin Moshfegh, MA, MSc, research analyst at Stanford University School of Medicine, and colleagues wrote. “However, the risk and risk factors for chronic opioid use among patients with new musculoskeletal pain are not fully understood.”

Non-trauma-related musculoskeletal pain

Moshfegh and colleagues analyzed data from 2007 to 2015 from the IBM MarketScan database to determine the risk and risk factors for chronic opioid use among opioid-naive, cancer-free, privately insured patients aged 18 to 64 years recently diagnosed with non-trauma-related musculoskeletal pain in the knee, neck, low back or shoulder (n = 412,021; 51% men; average age, 45 years).

Opioid-naive was defined as having no opioid prescriptions filled in the year prior to diagnosis. Chronic opioid use was defined as filling 10 or more prescriptions or having at least 120 days’ supply of either hydrocodone, hydromorphone, methadone, morphine, oxymorphone, and oxycodone between 91 and 365 days after musculoskeletal pain diagnosis.

While chronic opioid use among patients with musculoskeletal pain declined overall, the risk for chronic use was highest among those with low back and multiple anatomical site pain.

The researchers included patients with pain severe enough to require a second outpatient or ED visit within 30 days of the diagnosis and excluded patients with conditions that may be mistaken for musculoskeletal low back pain, such as UTIs and osteoporosis.

The annual risk for chronic opioid use was highest for multiple site pain (1.5%), followed by the low back (1.4%), neck (0.43%), shoulder (0.3%) and knee (0.3%). Overall, the risk for chronic opioid use was 0.31% (95% CI, 0.29-0.33).

Prominent risk factors for chronic opioid use were anatomical location, including low back and multiple sites, and opioid use within 90 days of diagnosis. During the study period, there was a decrease in the knee, low back, and multiple-site pain.

“Our data suggest that risk for chronic opioid use among patients with musculoskeletal pain has decreased and pointed to some measures (such as avoiding opioid use soon after diagnosis) to further reduce this risk, particularly among those with the risk factors identified here (for example, low back and multiple-site pain),” Moshfegh and colleagues concluded.

Patients with these risk factors should be closely followed and may benefit from the involvement of a nonpharmacologic provider, such as a physical therapist or chiropractor,” noted Moshfegh and colleagues.