nurseA third of UK pain sufferers are concerned about the extent to which they depend on painkillers to manage their daily lives, according to a study by Nuffield Health, the UK’s largest healthcare charity.

The survey found that 33 per cent of those taking medication to alleviate their pain were worried about their reliance on painkillers. It also revealed that almost four in ten (37 per cent) required them simply to continue working.

And one third said they have taken time off work due to the pain or injury – of these people 28 per cent having taken up to a week and 16 per cent up to a month off work.

Cabella Lowe, Nuffield Health, Professional Head of Physiotherapy, said:

“It is concerning that four in ten people taking painkillers are reliant on them to continue working.

“We believe more people could alleviate their pain by seeing a physiotherapist and improve their home and working lives. We work with many companies providing fast, convenient access to physiotherapy.

“The most important action is to seek expert advice quickly as research shows that early intervention is key to getting rid of pain.

“Worries about dependency are high and match an increasing trend for people to use painkillers as a solution. Any concerns people have about their reliance on painkillers should be addressed urgently with a GP.”

The report – based on interviews with 1659 people – found that one in seven of those questioned admitted to exceeding the recommended daily dosage of drugs in order to combat pain and its effects.

According to the Nuffield Health research, a quarter (26 per cent) have taken painkillers for five years or more. Among these long-term users the percentage concerned about their level of dependency rose to 38 per cent.

Dr Andrew Jones, MD for Corporate Wellbeing at Nuffield Health, said:

“These results demonstrate that musculoskeletal injuries are widespread, affecting people’s home and work lives.

“A physiotherapist can provide the clinical assessment required, as well as advice needed, to reduce the likelihood of frequent and on-going use of painkillers.”

The survey also reveals that more than a third (36%) of people using painkillers are taking potentially habit-forming drugs including Codeine and Tramadol.

A smaller group (7%) are using even stronger opiates, including morphine and pethidine, and one in ten said they use sleeping pills.

Almost two thirds sought treatment from a GP, with one in six (16%) unhappy with the outcome; a third (32%) cited only being prescribed painkillers as the source of their frustration, while a quarter (25%) thought their doctor lacked enough knowledge about their condition.

Of those who have managed to find a solution, a fifth (19%) used physiotherapy while 7% had surgery. Less than a fifth (17%) said their pain or injury recovered over time.

The study also flagged up significant regional variations – with Londoners the most likely to worry about dependency on painkillers.

The North East has the highest numbers – 43% – managing pain with stronger painkillers like codeine and Tramadol, with nearly a quarter (24%) admitting to taking more than the safe recommended dose – the highest number in the UK.

Wales reported the highest number of long-term sick, with over a third (35%) suffering pain for more than five years.