Musculoskeletal Conditions and Opioid Pain Management

Pain Management

This article (Musculoskeletal Conditions and Opioid Pain Management) provides findings on musculoskeletal conditions and prescription analgesics among US adults. View the full paper, via the link, and read more in detail about the study results.


Andrew Stokes, Boston University School of Public Health

Kaitlyn M. Berry, University of Minnesota School of Public Health

Katherine Hempstead, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Dielle J. Lundberg, Boston University School of Public Health

Tuhina Neogi, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston University School of Public Health

Stokes A, Berry KM, Hempstead K, Lundberg DJ, Neogi T. Trends in Prescription Analgesic Use Among Adults With Musculoskeletal Conditions in the United States, 1999-2016. JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(12):e1917228.


Musculoskeletal conditions are painful to manage. These conditions are the leading cause of why people live with a disability. Opioid therapy has been seen as an option for pain relief.  However, the amount of morphine milligram equivalents (MMEs) is unusually high and MMEs prescribed in 2015 are 3x the MME levels in 1999. This study examined trends from 1999 to 2016 in prescription opioids for short term and long term pain management use.

Key findings:

  • Between 2003 to 2004 and 2005 to 2006, two observations were noticed at the same time.
    • 1) a decrease in non-opioid analgesics among adults with musculoskeletal conditions and
    • 2) an increase in prescription opioid use
  • Opioid use was more prevalent between 2015 to 2016 than 1999 to 2000. Furthermore, the prevalence in this study changed at a higher rate than the general population. (By general population, we are referring to individuals not identified as part of the study population). These results suggest that the expansion of opioid use in pain management has influenced the use in the overall population.
  • Prescription opioid use decreased from 2013 to 2014 and 2015 to 2016. More specifically, there was an 11% decline in the amount of people utilizing prescription pain management. This decrease could be attributed to the development of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s prescribing guidelines.

Future directions:

  • As science continues to move forward, it may be important look at the following:
    • Research on the potential unmet need for pain management
    • Observed decreases in prescription pain management and the counterbalance effect of using other pain management strategies

If you are interested in more of this work, you may find this PubMed search of use.