Pain rehabilitation programs are effective alternative to opioids for managing chronic pain

American Pain Society Study Reports Significant Quality of Life Improvements

New research, published this month by the American Pain Society (APS), adds to burgeoning scientific evidence showing that interdisciplinary pain rehabilitation programs are an effective alternative to opioids for chronic pain management. Despite several studies documenting favorable outcomes, access to multi-modal pain management programs remains out of reach for most patients due to inadequate insurance coverage. This discourages providers from opening new interdisciplinary pain clinics.

"Doctors refer patients to specialty pain clinics, usually filled to capacity, so desperation sets in and the next stop could be a dealer on the street," said William Maixner, DDS, PhD, president of the American Pain Society. "We need more specialty pain clinics, but paltry reimbursements offer no incentives for opening more programs."

The new study appears in the June issue of The Journal of Pain, the APS peer-review publication. Researchers from Mayo Clinic hypothesized that patients with chronic pain not using opioids and those tapered off opioids during treatment would experience significant improvements in self-report and performance-based functional outcomes from treatments in interdisciplinary pain rehabilitation programs (IPRPs).

Results showed that patients who were tapered off opioids showed improvement comparable to patients not taking opioids and experienced sustained improvements in functioning six months after treatment. The authors concluded their findings suggest that regardless of previous opioid use status, IPRP treatment leads to sustained functional restoration for chronic pain for an enhanced degree of daily functioning.

"The ultimate aim of IPRP is not to alleviate pain or produce short-term functional gains, but rather to foster sustained benefits that patients can continue for the remainder of their lives," the authors wrote.

"Biopsychosocial approaches to pain assessment can enhance treatment outcomes by better matching patients to appropriate therapies. More and more studies are showing that psychosocial pain treatments work and are making a difference," Maixner said. "Medicare, Medicaid and private insurers, therefore, must offer better coverage for biopsychosocial pain management as part of a comprehensive national effort to bring relief to people with chronic pain without resorting to opioids."​​​​


  1. Reese Tyrell Reese Tyrell United States says:

    Multidisciplinary pain clinics were common twenty years ago. While the clinic I went through was helpful for fellow patients with musculoskeletal pain, I found the modalities I learned less helpful for genetic autoimmune disease. While insurance absolutely should pay for clinics, I would caution readers not to treat multimodal pain management and opioid pain medication as an either/or proposition.

    As a patient with severe refractory IC/BPS, with no pain medication I would be like the guy in the iron lung, except with a toilet. I would not have been able to attend a multidisciplinary pain clinic, nor indeed would I be able to go anywhere at all.

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