Physical Therapy is a Viable Alternative to Using Opioids


January 24, 2024

The National Institute of Health defines chronic pain as;

A pain that persists for more than 3-6 months even with medication and treatment. 1

Chronic pain is more common in elder individuals. It may result due to several health-related conditions such as

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Dementia
  • Parkinson
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Cancer

Each patient responds to pain differently. However, some common effects include depression, anxiety, and difficulty with sleep which leads to limitations in daily activities. If left untreated then it can severely disrupt a person’s quality of life. Even worse, some sufferers with chronic pain may turn to prescription medication, which adds to the rise in opioid and other drug usage.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 50.2 million US adults experience chronic pain. Another publication found that 22.1% of these US adults used prescription opioids while suffering from chronic pain.2

The increasing morbidity and mortality due to the current opioid epidemic made medical professionals look towards non-pharmacological therapies like physical therapy. Understanding chronic pain, its involvement in the opioid crisis, and why physical therapy can be the best alternative treatment is crucial for both patients and healthcare professionals.

The HHS 5-Point Strategy makes clear that addressing chronic pain necessitates a thorough strategy that is patient-centered. Physical therapy is a more efficient form of care than just suppressing pain receptors since it treats the underlying problem. The following ways that physical therapy assists: Physical manual manipulation: Physical therapy aims to increase the mobility and flexibility of joints, soft tissues, and nerves. When the body is in pain, it responds by restricting mobility there. By gradually relaxing the afflicted areas, PT helps in restoring normal bodily mobility.

  • Strength training: These exercises offer strong support for joints whose nerves are susceptible to pressure - a common cause of chronic pain. A physical therapist can develop personalized exercise plans to help patients regain muscle strength.
  • Posture: Physical therapy helps patients develop appropriate movement patterns during everyday tasks like sitting, walking, bending over, or lifting items as well as educates them.
  • Electrotherapy: This therapy involving electrical stimulation or hot and cold treatment can be used to deal with chronic pain resulting from inflammation.

Given the crisis and the increasing number of deaths associated with it, it is imperative to steer the medical community away from prescribing opioids to manage chronic pain. Physical therapy, which has been proven to address the root cause of pain rather than simply masking its symptoms, should be more widely embraced as a viable alternative treatment.

It is the highly recommended approach for chronic pain management, especially in cancer patients receiving palliative care.3

Here at Somatic Health, one of our motives is to deal chronic pain through physical therapy approaches in the fight against the opioid crisis in addition to advocating for value-driven patient care. On the other hand, we do our part by providing therapists with innovative technology such as AI-ROM (range of motion), 3-D motion capture, and 4000+ therapeutic home exercise videos that enable them to assess their patient’s ranges and evaluate them properly without any restriction of location.