Physical Therapy vs Opioids for Pain Management: #ChoosePT Movement

No one wants to live with pain, but you shouldn’t put your health and well-being at risk while attempting to be pain-free. Over the past 15 years, Americans are increasing being prescribed opioid painkillers like Vicodin, OxyContin, Methadone and Percocet for chronic pain. In fact,the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that, even though “there has not been an overall change of pain that Americans report,” both the sales of prescription opioids and prescription opioid deaths have quadrupled in the United States.

While there are certain conditions – for example, cancer treatment, palliative care, and end-of-life care – where an opioid prescription for chronic pain when dosed correctly can be an appropriate part of medical treatment, the CDC cited a variety of cases where opioid prescriptions could be significantly reduced or completely avoided. The CDC goes on to say, “nonpharmacologic therapy and nonopioid pharmacologic therapy are preferred for chronic pain. Clinicians should consider opioid therapy only if the expected benefits for both pain and function are anticipated to outweigh risks to the patient. If opioids are used, they should be combined with nonpharmacologic therapy and nonopioid pharmacologic therapy, as appropriate.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging health care providers to no longer prescribe opioids for pain management, instead suggesting safe alternatives like physical therapy. Choosing physical therapy over opioids will help treat the pain, not just mask it.



Opioid vs Physical Therapy for Pain Management- #ChoosePT Movement- June 2017


The Truth About Opioids

It’s safe to say that our country’s opioid epidemic can be felt in every community nationwide. To help the battle, the CDC released guidelines last year to encourage healthcare providers to prescribe safer alternatives for patients in need of pain management.

Learn the truth about opioids for pain management:

  1. In 2012, there were 259 million prescriptions written for opioids, which is enough for every American adult to have one bottle of pills.
  2. Every day, an average of 46 people die from a prescription painkiller overdose in the US, which has quadrupled over the last 15 years.
  3. 1 in 4 patients who receive long-term opioids prescriptions for non-cancer diagnosis in primary care setting struggle with addiction.
  4. In 2015, opioids killed more than 33,000 people, which is the most of any year on record. Also, nearly half of these deaths involved prescription opioids.
  5. Opioid risks include depression, overdose, and addiction, plus withdrawal symptoms when stopping use.
  6. Individuals who are addicted to prescription opioids are 40x more likely to become addicted to heroin.
  7. More than 1,000 people are treated daily in ERs for prescription opioid misuse. 

Choosing Physical Therapy for Pain Management

The risks of using opioids for pain management outweigh the reward of a temporary masking of the pain. According to the CDC guidelines “experts agreed that opioids should not be considered first line or routine therapy for chronic pain.” Instead, consider physical therapy for pain management when:

  • It’s not worth the side effect risks, which include: depression, addiction, overdose and withdrawal symptoms when usage stops.
  • You’re looking for a solution beyond simply masking the pain. While opioids can reduce the sensation of pain by interrupting signals to the brain, it does nothing as a solution for long-term pain management. However, a physical therapist can help alleviate pain through repetitive movements to help improve or maintain mobility and overall quality of life.
  • Pain remains for 90 days, it is then considered “chronic.”
  • A low dosage of opioid is prescribed, the CDC recommends that patients should also receive nonopioid therapy, for example, physical therapy.

Do you know someone who suffers from chronic pain? Encourage them to talk to their physician or physical therapist about safe, non-prescription pain management alternatives.

For more information, check out The American Physical Therapy Association’s #ChoosePT campaign, which aims to raise awareness about the risks of opioids and the safe alternative to physical therapy for long-term pain management.

Are you a Physical Therapist or Physical Therapist Assistant? Check out this Fact Sheet from the #ChoosePT to learn everything you need to know about Opioids and Pain Management



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