Doctor-prescribed opioids are appropriate in some cases for pain management, but they just mask the pain. The CDC recommends safer alternatives like physical therapy. No one wants to live in pain, but no one should put their health at risk in an effort to be pain-free.
“Physical therapy is a safe and effective alternative to potentially addictive opioids for long-term pain management, says Christina Rosado, DPT, director of physical therapy at Westmed Medical Group. “Physical therapists treat pain through movement, hands-on care, and patient education—and by increasing physical activity you can also reduce your risk of other chronic diseases.”
According to the CDC, patients should choose physical therapy when:
- The risks of opioid use outweigh the rewards. 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 those familiar 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 nonopioid 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 nonopioid 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.”
Before you agree to a prescription for opioids, consult with a physical therapist to discuss options for nonopioid treatment.
Pain is personal, but treating pain takes teamwork. When it comes to your health, you have a choice. Choose more movement and better health. See the Westmed Medical Group’s physical therapy page for more information.