Prevalence and characteristics of breakthrough pain in patients receiving opioids for chronic back pain in pain specialty clinics


  • Daniel S. Bennett, MD
  • Steven Simon, MD, RPh
  • Michael Brennan, MD
  • Steven A. Shoemaker, MD



back pain, chronic pain, breakthrough pain, prevalence, survey methodology


Objective: We sought to assess the prevalence and characteristics of breakthrough pain (BTP) in patients with chronic back pain.
Design; Researchers utilized a telephone survey using a pain assessment algorithm. This report represents a subset of patients from a larger survey of228patients with chronic pain unrelated to cancer.
Participants: This study employed 117subjects taking opioids for a primary diagnosis of back pain and receiving care at geographically dispersed pain treatment centers. Subjects had pain lasting at least six months and had “controlled” baseline pain.
Results: Eighty-seven subjects (74 percent) experienced 93 types of BTP. The median number of BTP episodes per day was two; median time to maximum intensity was 10 minutes, and median duration was 55 minutes. Onset could not be predicted for 46 percent of pains. Eighty-three percent of subjects used shorter-acting opioids for BTP. Other medications used for pain included NSAIDs, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, skeletal muscle relaxants, intrathecal local anesthetics, and transdermal local anesthetics.
Conclusions: These patients with opioid-treated chronic back pain commonly experienced BTP, which often had a rapid onset and a relatively short duration and was difficult to predict. Opioids were the mainstay of pharmacologic therapy, but nonopioid analgesics and adjuvant analgesics were commonly used.

Author Biographies

Daniel S. Bennett, MD

Integrative Treatment Centers, Denver, Colorado.

Steven Simon, MD, RPh

Pain Management Institute, Overland Park, Kansas.

Michael Brennan, MD

The Pain Center of Fairfield, Fairfield, Connecticut.

Steven A. Shoemaker, MD

Sagemed, Inc., Boulder, Colorado.


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How to Cite

Bennett, MD, D. S., S. Simon, MD, RPh, M. Brennan, MD, and S. A. Shoemaker, MD. “Prevalence and Characteristics of Breakthrough Pain in Patients Receiving Opioids for Chronic Back Pain in Pain Specialty Clinics”. Journal of Opioid Management, vol. 3, no. 2, Mar. 2007, pp. 101-6, doi:10.5055/jom.2007.0046.