While the study doesn’t answer the question of why medicine is often used instead of therapeutic exercise to treat this condition, Goode says that would be a good focus for future research.

Daniel Berland, MD, an assistant professor of medicine and anesthesiology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, specializes in acute and chronic pain management. He says he believes a variety of factors are at play.

“It’s our instant-gratification society that wants to do nothing more than take a pill to be fixed, and doctors who have been incorrectly trained and don’t have time to do a full assessment,” he says. “There’s no question that doctors’ physical exam skills have waned over time and there’s an over reliance on testing and of course there’s patient demand for tests.”

Dr. Berland says while pain medicines work well in acute situations, over time patients can build up a tolerance or addiction. He believes most patients will find longer-lasting relief through other options.

“There is not a single study in the medical literature that shows there’s a benefit in improving functional outcomes – in terms of making people live their lives better – for any opioid treatment greater than 100 days,” Dr. Berland says. “The more exercise they get the better. The more they make friends with their heating pad the better.”

He says sometimes it’s not possible to eliminate pain altogether, but he believes patients are best served by regular consultations with qualified pain experts who can teach them to manage their symptoms and their expectations.

“If people walk in saying I want to have no pain they probably aren’t being realistic. They need to learn not to fight their pain but learn to live with some pain,” Dr. Berland says. “That’s the message that’s truth and once people do it they live a lot better.”