Exercise programs can help treat chronic pain

The National Institute for health and Care Excellence (Nice) has said that people suffering from chronic pain that has no known cause should be offered exercise, talking therapies and acupuncture instead of painkillers.

The medicines watchdog has made a change of pain treatment policy, urging doctors to advise sufferers to use physical and psychological therapies rather than analgesics to manage their pain.

Pain that lasts for more than three months is known as chronic or persistent pain. In the UK the prevalence of chronic pain is uncertain, but appears common, affecting perhaps one-third to one-half of the population. The prevalence of chronic primary pain is unknown but is estimated to be between one and six per cent in England.

The guideline emphasises the need for shared decision making, putting patients at the centre of their care, and fostering a collaborative, supportive relationship between patients and healthcare professionals. It highlights the importance of healthcare professionals gaining an understanding of how a person’s life affects their pain and how pain affects their life, including their work and leisure time, relationships with family and friends, and sleep.

The guideline recommends that a care and support plan should be developed based on the effects of pain on day-to-day activities, as well as a person’s preferences, abilities and goals. It also highlights the importance of being honest with the person about the uncertainty of the prognosis.

The guideline makes recommendations for treatments that have been shown to be effective in managing chronic primary pain. These include exercise programmes and the psychological therapies CBT and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). Acupuncture is also recommended as an option.

Dr Paul Chrisp, director of the Centre for Guidelines at NICE, said: “This guideline is very clear in highlighting that, based on the evidence, for most people it’s unlikely that any drug treatments for chronic primary pain, other than antidepressants, provide an adequate balance between any benefits they might provide and the risks associated with them.

“But people shouldn’t be worried that we’re asking them to simply stop taking their medicines without providing them with alternative, safer and more effective options. First and foremost, people who are taking medicines to treat their chronic primary pain which aren’t recommended in the guideline should ask their doctor to review their prescribing as part of shared decision making. This could involve agreeing a plan to carry on taking their medicines if they provide benefit at a safe dose and few harms, or support for them to reduce and stop the medicine if possible. When making shared decisions about whether to stop it's important that any problems associated with withdrawal are discussed and properly addressed.”

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