Every October, the American Physical Therapy Association hosts National Physical Therapy Month, an annual commemoration that highlights the contributions of physical therapists and physical therapy assistants. This year’s campaign is titled #ChoosePT, and its goal is to remind patients that physical therapy is a safe and effective alternative to opioids for pain management.
Opioids are a class of drug that act on the nervous system to produce morphine-like effects. Medications within this class include Vicodin, OxyContin, Opana, methodone, and Percocet. When taken responsibly, opioids can be an effective component of pain management. However, risky side effects like depression, dependence, addiction and overdose require that these drugs be closely monitored and managed by a doctor.
Due to the risk of opioid misuse and dependency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released opioid prescription guidelines in March of 2016. The guidelines state that nonpharmacologic therapy and nonopioid pharmacologic therapy are the preferred method for treating chronic pain, although certain situations such as palliative care and acute care situations may warrant opioid treatment (Source: American Physical Therapy Association).
If you are suffering from acute or chronic pain, physical therapy may be able to effectively manage your pain symptoms without the assistance of prescription painkillers. Here are some indications that you should consider physical therapy for pain management:
- The risks of opioids outweigh the benefits – Individuals with a personal or family history of substance abuse or individuals with psychiatric disorders may be at higher risk for dependency or addiction to opioids.
- Pain is related to osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia or lower back pain – Evidence indicates that exercise and physical therapy are effective treatments for these conditions
- Pain is chronic – Pain that lasts longer than 90 days is considered chronic and requires ongoing management. Long-term opioid use increases the risk of side effects, dependency and addiction.
If you have questions or concerns about pain management, talk to your doctor about whether physical therapy can effectively treat your symptoms. Working side by side with a physical therapist may be the key to addressing your pain rather than masking it. Treating your pain at the source will help to restore function and alleviate discomfort without the risk of unwanted side effects.