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Painkillers may impede recovery from nerve damage

Living with chronic pain can be disabling in and of itself, but it is often a symptom of a broader disability that also causes other problems. Millions of Americans rely on painkillers to function, and many of them are able to work and care for themselves with the aid of narcotics.

But for many people, narcotics can mask the pain but not the disability itself. That is the conclusion of a new study of people living with nerve damage. The researchers said that narcotics cannot improve movement or reduce disability for this type of condition, and may actually impede recovery, according to U.S. News and World Report.

The study examined nearly 800 patients with pain due to nerve damage caused by things like diabetes and pinched nerves. Researchers prescribed narcotic painkillers like morphine, codeine and Tylenol 3 to some of the patients and gave nothing to the rest.

The researchers followed up on the subjects after six months, and again at the 12-month point. They found that the subjects who were not given painkillers tended to regained more of their range of motion, and reduced more of their disability, than the group with the drugs.

The study’s lead author, a pain expert, said he knows it is often necessary to balance pain management with rehabilitation. After a certain point, it could be that relieving patients’ pain is interfering with their ability to get better. He suggested that those with nerve damage go slow with rehab to avoid reaching their pain limit every time.

For many people, their chronic pain is so debilitating that they must stop working and turn to Social Security Disability for financial support.

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