A systematic review and meta-analysis has found opioids are ineffective when it comes to treating joint pain in those aged over 60.
Older Australians with muscle and joint pain shouldn't waste their time seeking a prescription for opioid medication to east their pain, new research suggests.
A University of Sydney study, published in the Journal of Pain, has shown that opioids provide patients 60 years and older with musculoskeletal pain little benefit, while significantly increasing their risk of serious side effects.
Researchers reviewed the efficacy and safety of prescription opioids across 24 international randomised controlled trials, comparing the effects of opioids to placebo.
While opioids are one of the most common types of medication offered to patients with chronic knee, hip or low pack pain, the study found they have a "small" or no clinical effect on reducing pain and improving function.
"Patients experienced around a seven per cent decrease in pain compared to placebo pills, which is considered too small to be of clinical importance. Only small improvements on physical function was found," said author Associate Professor Manuela Ferreira, senior researcher at the Institute of Bone and Joint Research, Kolling Institute.
It was also found older people taking opioids for musculoskeletal pain were almost three times more likely to have an adverse event associated with treatment.
The most common effects were nausea, constipation, drowsiness, dizziness, headache and dry mouth.
"The impact of these side effects on the older patient can be very significant, leading to more serious events such as falls and confusion," Professor Ferreira said.
For this age group, Professor Ferreira recommends they try exercise and physical therapies to manage their pain.
"For this specific population, the benefits may not compensate for the risks that opioids can cause," she said.
"Concerns about the safety of these medicines and the risk of overuse and opioid-related adverse events should also be considered by doctors when prescribing those medicines."