Physical Therapy vs. Opioids: Choose PT First, A Safer Alternative

The prescription opioid epidemic is one that has received a lot of national attention, and for good reason. Deaths related to prescription opioids have quadrupled since 1999, and 1 in 4 people who receive prescription opioids for long-term pain become addicted. This epidemic is hitting all areas of our country and knows no gender, racial, or socioeconomic boundaries. According to the CDC the State of New Hampshire is one of the top states for deaths related to opioids/heroin.

In March of 2016 the CDC released new guidelines to encourage health care providers to try safer alternatives to opioids for treating pain, like physical therapy. Patients should consider PT as a safer alternative to manage pain when:

• The risks of opioid use outweigh the rewards.did-you-know-opioid-facts-for-web
Potential side effects of opioids include depression, overdose, and addiction, plus withdrawal symptoms when stopping opioid use. Because of these risks, “experts agreed that opioids should not be considered first line or routine therapy for chronic pain,” the CDC guidelines state. Even in cases when evidence on the long-term benefits of non-opioid therapies is limited, “risks are much lower” with non-opioid treatment plans.

• Patients want to do more than mask the pain.
Opioids reduce the sensation of pain by interrupting pain signals to the brain. Physical therapists treat pain through movement while partnering with patients to improve or maintain their mobility and quality of life.

• Pain or function problems are related to low back pain, hip or knee osteoarthritis, or fibromyalgia.
The CDC cites “high-quality evidence” supporting exercise as part of a physical therapy treatment plan for these conditions.

• Opioids are prescribed for pain.
Even in situations when opioids are prescribed, the CDC recommends that patients should receive “the lowest effective dosage,” and opioids “should be combined” with non-opioid therapies, such as physical therapy.

• Pain lasts 90 days.
At this point, the pain is considered “chronic,” and the risks for continued opioid use increase. An estimated 116 million Americans have chronic pain each year. The CDC guidelines note that non-opioid therapies are “preferred” for chronic pain and that “clinicians should consider opioid therapy only if expected benefits for both pain and function are anticipated to outweigh risks to the patient.”

The Physical Therapists at Cioffredi & Associates are here to help you understand your options for non-opioid treatment and how PT can help you to manage or eliminate your pain. Call us for an evaluation today.

This article content adapted from the American Physical Therapy Association,

For more information on this topic, please click here for resources from the AMERICAN PHYSICAL THERAPY ASSOCIATION