This year, the American Physical Therapy Association is focused on raising awareness for physical therapy as a safe and effective alternative to using medication for pain management. The theme of this year’s campaign is #ChoosePT and we’re here to support this effort by sharing some of the reasons why you should choose physical therapy to help you get better for the long-term.
Different Types of Pain
Many people experience pain after a car accident or from a work or sports-related injury. In these cases, the pain might be temporary, and medication might seem like a quick, easy fix versus putting time and effort into physical therapy. Other people may experience more disabling conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, back pain or Fibromyalgia. These types of chronic pain might be so debilitating to someone’s day-to-day life that pain medication can feel like their only hope for coping.
Whether your pain is short or long-term, we want people to understand that there are rehabilitation options other than medication that can alleviate your pain, restore full mobility and promote internal healing. Physical therapy is a safer alternative for pain management and can provide you with a better outcome.
The Pain Medication Epidemic
Prescription pain medications, including opioids, are often used by healthcare providers to treat chronic and acute pain. According to the CDC, health care providers wrote 191 million prescriptions for opioid pain medication in 2017. While there are times when doctor-prescribed opioids can be an important part of treatment, there are also a variety of risks associated with their misuse. From 1999 to 2016, more than 200,000 people died in the United States from overdoses related to prescription opioids. Overdose deaths involving prescription opioids were five times higher in 2016 than in 1999.
The current opioid epidemic we are facing in the country is helping to raise awareness about the dangers associated with using opioids including depression, overdose, addiction and withdrawal challenges. It’s hard to believe that experiencing a minor injury could eventually lead you down a path where a medication that was simply intended to relieve your pain causes more damage, but opioid misuse is a major crisis. Sadly, Americans are saving and sharing these medications at alarming rates and 75% of heroin users started out with abusing prescription opioids. While these statistics are scary, it’s important to understand how addictive these pain medications are.
5 Reasons to Choose Physical Therapy for Pain Management
So, why is physical therapy the better option for managing pain? Here are some of the benefits to incorporating physical therapy into your treatment plan.
The Safer Option
The biggest and most important reason to choose physical therapy is that it’s the safer way to manage pain. According to the CDC, in addition to the risks of addiction, overdose, and death we mentioned above, side effects of opioid use – even when taken as directed – include:
- Physical dependence
- Increased sensitivity to pain
- Dry mouth
Lowered testosterone levels
- Itching, sweating
Are all these risks and possible side effects worth the temporary relief that opioid medication offers? No. But we understand how people in pain can think it’s the best option for them. There are no “negative side effects” to using physical therapy—patients are only improving their mobility while decreasing their pain.
2.) Maximizing Movement
Whereas opioid medication masks the feeling of pain, physical therapists treat pain through movement. The physical therapy team at Alliance Orthopedics focuses on restoring strength to the surrounding tissues and improving diminished range of movement. In most cases, opioid usage for treating long-term pain management has been inclusive in terms of effectiveness. Physical therapy, on the other hand, is effective for numerous conditions. The CDC cited “high quality evidence” supporting exercise as part of physical therapist treatment for familiar conditions including low back pain, hip and knee osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia.
3.) Physical Therapy > Surgery
Aside from the benefits physical therapy offers over opioid medication, there are other reasons to choose working with a physical therapist for pain management. In the United States, it’s common for doctors to recommend surgery over a long-term solution like physical therapy. However, a study by New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) showed that physical therapy is just as effective as surgery in patients with meniscal tears and arthritis of the knee, thus encouraging health care providers to reconsider their practices in the management of this common injury.
Physical therapy can help you eliminate pain or heal from an injury, so that surgery is not needed. If you do need surgery at some point, physical therapy can still prove to be beneficial by allowing you to go into a surgery stronger and in better shape. In many cases, this can help you to recover faster post-surgery. There are also greater healthcare expenses associated with surgery that can be avoided with an alternative like physical therapy.
4.) Individualized Treatment Plans
When you work with a physical therapist, you are also getting a personalized treatment plan that takes into consideration your personal needs, goals, limitations and any pre-existing conditions. The Alliance Orthopedics team always works to develop an individualized treatment plan that will help you achieve your pain management, recovery and wellness goals. Our chiropractors and physical therapists work together to help with your pain relief. Chiropractic care, massage therapy and physical therapy are complementary treatments which help you heal and can also prevent future injuries. Physical therapists are also trained to identify additional health issues—they might see beyond what the patient initially reports and can improve a person’s overall health and quality of life.
5.) Education and Awareness
Part of the goal of the APTA’s campaign for Physical Therapy Month is to make sure that physical therapists—who play a critical role in people’s pain management—are armed with the appropriate resources to educate patients and other health providers on the benefits of using physical therapy to manage pain over prescription opioids. The CDC released guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain in 2016 that urge clinicians to seek safer alternatives, in most cases physical therapy, for long-term pain management.
To help combat the pain medication epidemic on a local level, Alliance Orthopedics partners with the Old Bridge Police Department and MAPSA to bring educational seminars to the Old Bridge community about alternatives to pain medications. We hope that our efforts and the larger Physical Therapy Month campaign can bring more awareness to the importance of choosing physical therapy to help reduce the dependency on prescription pain medicine.
What to Do if You are Experiencing Pain
If you are experiencing pain—whether caused by an accident or injury or due to a chronic illness—it’s important to remember that as the patient, you have a choice about the kind of treatment you receive. It’s essential that you speak to your health care provider about your options, but if you aren’t comfortable with the treatment plan they recommend, make sure to discuss the risks and whether there are safer alternatives for you.