Reduce Opioid Use by Choosing Physical Therapy Early
This article about reducing opioid use with physical therapy was written by David Bertone, PT, DPT, OCS, owner of db Orthopedic Physical Therapy
Why do people choose opioid use?
As a means to treat severe pain and discomfort, opioids are effective. There’s no question about this, but many healthcare professionals believe that they are not the right choice in all cases – or for all patients.
Common injuries and illnesses that may result in a prescription for opioids include:
Chronic pain sufferers: For those who have pain that hasn’t responded to other types of treatment, opioids are a common option. This includes all non-cancer pains that are severe enough to impair daily activities and quality of living.
Cancer patients: Many people with a cancer diagnosis opt for opioids to help manage their pain. The pain associated with having cancer – or even receiving treatment for cancer – is often much more severe than other health issues, leading to the need for stronger and more effective treatment options.
Acute injuries: For sudden pain associated with accidents, an opioid prescription is a short term solution. Injuries that may result in opioid use include broken or fractured bones and surgery recovery.
Based on a report from May 2020, between 21% and 29% of those that use opioids to treat pain misuse these medications. Another frightening statistic? Roughly 8% – 12% of these patients develop an addiction to opioids.
Unfortunately, many people view opioids as a useful, almost immediate solution to severe and otherwise uncontrollable pain. Even with more research, people turn to these substances as a way to manage pain, but is there a way to reduce opioid use and still live pain-free?
Why it is Important to Reduce Opioid Use
Since the number of people addicted to opioids continues to grow, researchers continue to analyze data. They do this to demonstrate effective alternatives in managing chronic and acute musculoskeletal pain.
The incidence of musculoskeletal pain in the US affects nearly 50% of adults and results in an annual cost of $874 billion according to data published in the US Bone and Joint Initiative in 2014. With this many people suffering from pain, treatment options have to be varied – and widely available.
But what is the best option?
Treatment choices aren’t solutions that should be picked without careful consideration. Why? The goal isn’t simply to manage pain. When deciding on the best course of action, doctors and patients need to also consider that whatever is done should improve the quality of life.
For many, this means more than living pain-free. It also means being able to continue doing as much as possible to keep up with a “normal” routine. Staying active, being able to work, keeping up with activities with loved ones – all of these are aspects of life that might become difficult after an injury or illness, and without adequate treatment.
Physical Therapy May Reduce the Need for Opioid Treatment
In an attempt to curb the use of prescription drugs, health care professionals and patients often opt for other forms of treatment. One of these is physical therapy. Many believe that by undergoing physical therapy sessions, patients can reduce opioid use. This allows them to focus on other methods for healing.
A recently published study in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at data from insurance claims filed between 2007 and 2015. The study investigated the benefits of early physical therapy versus the use of opioid pain medication.
The results of this study are promising. They show that receiving physical therapy within 30 days of the onset of acute musculoskeletal pain for low back, shoulder, and knee pain was associated with a 5-10% reduction in the use of opioid medication. While a small number, these results show that choosing an alternative treatment may help significantly. This study shows that it is possible to manage pain without a prescription drug – leading to fewer future addictions and cases of opioid abuse.
There are many alternatives to medication when dealing with acute musculoskeletal pain. However, this is the first study that examined data over an extended period of time utilizing a large number of insurance claims.
This further supports the concept that physical therapy is an evidence-based profession that utilizes a wide range of non-addictive treatments for patients. These treatment options offer pain relief and improve the performance of functional activities over time.
Is Physical Therapy Guaranteed to Reduce Opioid Use?
Unfortunately, the answer to this question is no.
As with any medical treatment, there are no guarantees for patients that choosing one specific form of treatment will provide better results across the board. Physical therapy can and will help in most cases, but even this may need to be supplemented with medications and other types of treatment.
For the most severe injury cases and recovery periods, multiple options may need to be used at the same time. Medications are often paired with physical therapy, but that doesn’t mean that they have to be opioid in nature.
Your best bet?
Discuss all potential options for treatment with your medical team before making any decisions.
When determining what your best course of action is, the right information is necessary. Discuss this study as well as other evidence-based studies when considering treatment options with your physician. It might seem unnecessary, sure. However, having as much information as possible allows you to make the best choice for your personal health.
Sure, it may be easier to take a pill for pain. But is the high risk of addiction really worth it? Remember – the benefits of opioids are (in some cases) matched and even improved with non-pharmacological treatment approaches.
Remember, most states offer direct access to physical therapy. You do not need a referral or prescription to see a physical therapist. You can get immediate care for all of your current musculoskeletal pain symptoms as well as ones that may develop. One clinic that offers such a service? Db Orthopedics Physical therapy, which has two locations on the east coast in New Jersey
When looking for the best treatment option for pain – whether it’s acute, chronic, or the result of a diagnosed illness like cancer, trying physical therapy first is an effective alternative.
To begin the search for a physical therapy clinic that will help you reduce opioid use, look no further than the BetterPT clinic location tool. Another option? The BetterPT app, which can be downloaded to any mobile device. Though physical therapy is commonly thought of an an “in-person only” treatment plan, platforms like BetterTelehealth exist. Telemedicine is a field that continues to grow in popularity. Luckily for many patients across the world, it is useful for physical therapy, too.
Dr. Bertone is a doctoral trained physical therapist and board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties. He is President of db Orthopedic Physical Therapy with locations in Lincroft and Manalapan, NJ. Dr. Bertone focuses on providing high-quality, evidence-based care to patients with different needs. In addition to his physical therapy practice, Dr. Bertone travels nationally to deliver lectures on physical therapy and concussions. He leads an active lifestyle, with a focus on participating in sports and enjoying his motorcycle.