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09 Apr 2021

Prescribe exercise, not painkillers, to chronic pain sufferers says NICE
BY Tom Walker

The new guidance targets patients with pain which can't be tracked to any underlying condition

The new guidance targets patients with pain which can't be tracked to any underlying condition
photo: Shutterstock/Liderina

Adults suffering from chronic pain should be advised to take exercise, rather than be prescribed painkillers, according to new guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

In a groundbreaking move, NICE says that patients looking to manage their pain should be advised to engage in physical activity to alleviate the condition – as well as remain physically active for longer-term general health benefits.

The new guidance outlines the recommended care plans for patients suffering from pain that can't be tracked to any underlying condition – also known as chronic primary pain.

The new NICE guidance says that medical practitioners should "offer a supervised group exercise programme to people aged 16 years and over to manage chronic primary pain," but adding that they should "take people's specific needs, preferences and abilities into account."

It also advises against resorting to commonly used pain killers, including paracetamol, as there is "little or no evidence that they make any difference to people’s quality of life, pain or psychological distress, but they can cause harm, including possible addiction".

The guidance marks a major change in the UK's pain treatment policy and is seen as a huge win for the physical activity sector, which has for long made the case for exercise as an essential service and a form of preventative healthcare.

Dr Paul Chrisp, director of the Centre for Guidelines at NICE, said: “We want this guideline to make a positive difference to people with chronic pain, and their families and carers.

“It highlights that achieving an understanding of how pain is affecting a person’s life and those around them and knowing what is important to the person is the first step in developing an effective care and support plan that recognises and treats a person’s pain as valid and unique to them.”

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.

• To read the NICE guidance in full, click here.



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