American Society of Anesthesiologists – Pain Medicine

Five Things Physicians and Patients Should Question

Released January 21, 2014

  1. 1

    Don’t prescribe opioid analgesics as first-line therapy to treat chronic non-cancer pain.

    Physicians should consider multimodal therapy, including non-drug treatments such as behavioral and physical therapies prior to pharmacological intervention. If drug therapy appears indicated, non-opioid medication (e.g., NSAIDs, anticonvulsants, etc.) should be trialed prior to commencing opioids.

  2. 2

    Don’t prescribe opioid analgesics as long-term therapy to treat chronic non-cancer pain until the risks are considered and discussed with the patient.

    Patients should be informed of the risks of such treatment, including the potential for addiction. Physicians and patients should review and sign a written agreement that identifies the responsibilities of each party (e.g., urine drug testing) and the consequences of non-compliance with the agreement. Physicians should be cautious in co-prescribing opioids and benzodiazepines. Physicians should proactively evaluate and treat, if indicated, the nearly universal side effects of constipation and low testosterone or estrogen.

  3. 3

    Avoid imaging studies (MRI, CT or X-rays) for acute low back pain without specific indications.

    Imaging for low back pain in the first six weeks after pain begins should be avoided in the absence of specific clinical indications (e.g., history of cancer with potential metastases, known aortic aneurysm, progressive neurologic deficit, etc.). Most low back pain does not need imaging and doing so may reveal incidental findings that divert attention and increase the risk of having unhelpful surgery.

  4. 4

    Don’t use intravenous sedation for diagnostic and therapeutic nerve blocks, or joint injections as a default practice.*

    Intravenous sedation, such as with propofol, midazolam or ultrashort-acting opioid infusions for diagnostic and therapeutic nerve blocks, or joint injections, should not be used as the default practice. Ideally, diagnostic procedures should be performed with local anesthetic alone. Intravenous sedation can be used after evaluation and discussion of risks, including interference with assessing the acute pain relieving effects of the procedure and the potential for false positive responses. American Society of Anesthesiologists Standards for Basic Anesthetic Monitoring should be followed in cases where moderate or deep sedation is provided or anticipated.

    *This recommendation does not apply to pediatric patients.

  5. 5

    Avoid irreversible interventions for non-cancer pain that carry significant costs and/or risks.

    Irreversible interventions for non-cancer pain, such as peripheral chemical neurolytic blocks or peripheral radiofrequency ablation, should be avoided because they may carry significant long-term risks of weakness, numbness or increased pain.

These items are provided solely for informational purposes and are not intended as a substitute for consultation with a medical professional. Patients with any specific questions about the items on this list or their individual situation should consult their physician.

The American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) is an educational research and scientific association of physicians organized to raise and maintain the standards of the medical practice of anesthesiology and improve the care of the patient. Since its founding in 1905, the Society’s achievements have made it an important voice in American medicine and the foremost advocate for all patients who require anesthesia or relief from pain. As physicians, anesthesiologists are responsible for administering anesthesia to relieve pain and for managing vital life functions, including breathing, heart rhythm and blood pressure, during surgery. After surgery, they maintain the patient in a comfortable state during the recovery and are involved in the provision of critical care medicine in the intensive care unit.

For more information about ASA, visit www.asahq.org.

How This List Was Created

The American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) Committee on Pain Medicine was charged with developing the “Top 5 List” on pain medicine for the Choosing Wisely® campaign. Committee members submitted potential recommendations for the campaign, and from this list voted on which recommendations should be included in the final “Top 5 List.” The literature was then searched to provide supporting evidence. The Committee communicated electronically and met in person during the development and approval process. Once approved by the Committee, the “Top 5 List” was reviewed by ASA’s Chair of the Section on Subspecialties, Vice President for Scientific Affairs, Executive Committee and Administrative Council. ASA’s “Top 5 List” for pain medicine has been endorsed by the American Pain Society.

ASA’s disclosure and conflict of interest policy can be found at www.asahq.org.

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