The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) reported that in 2015, death from drug overdoses occurred more than gun homicide or car crashes combined.1 It is estimated that 15 million people are addicted to opioids worldwide and 69,000 people die from opioid overdose each year.2 Opioids attempt to relieve patient’s chronic pain but cause impairments that affect judgement and cause psychomotor agitation which ultimately prevent people from participating in social and occupational roles.3 Additional adverse effects can include drowsiness, coma, impaired attention, impaired memory, and slurred speech.3 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has attempted to implement guidelines for opioid prescription but opioid abuse has proved to be a prevailing issue the United States is continuing to battle1 In addition, the CDC recommends non-pharmacological approaches, such as physical therapy, over opioid medication for chronic pain.2
Based on a survey of 62,000 Americans, 78% of those surveyed would prefer drug free pain management over opioids; however majority of those survey stated they would seek care from a physician, chiropractor, or massage therapist before seeking a physical therapist.2 It is believed this is due to a lack of public awareness about what physical therapy has to offer.2 Therefore, the physical therapy profession is stepping up to help address this issue through the APTA’s nationwide #ChoosePT campaign.1 The physical therapy profession has a unique opportunity to take the lead role in healthcare and health promotion, with the goal of reducing the need for more dangerous health interventions like opioid medication.2 While opioids just mask pain short-term, physical therapists can offer their expertise on human movement to provide safe pain relief long-term and without adverse side effects experienced by drugs.1 Physical therapists can prescribe exercises specific to the goals and needs of the individual patient. Research shows that those who exercise more than 3 times per week were 28% less likely to experience chronic widespread pain.4 In addition, physical therapist can use other techniques such as manual therapy and various modalities for pain management.5
- APTA Statement on President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. https://www.apta.org/Media/Releases/Consumer/2017/4/4/. Accessed October 13, 2019.
- Mintken PE, Moore JR, Flynn TW. Physical Therapists’ Role in Solving the Opioid Epidemic. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2018;48(5):349-353. doi:10.2519/jospt.2018.0606
- Goodman CC, Fuller KS. Pathology – E-Book: Implications for the Physical Therapist. Elsevier Health Sciences; 2014.
- Holth HS, Werpen HKB, Zwart J-A, Hagen K. Physical inactivity is associated with chronic musculoskeletal complaints 11 years later: results from the Nord-Trøndelag Health Study. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2008;9:159. doi:10.1186/1471-2474-9-159
- 4 Ways Physical Therapists Manage Pain. American Physical Therapy Association. https://www.choosept.com/Resources/Detail/how-physical-therapists-manage-pain. Published June 27, 2016. Accessed October 13, 2019.
Colleen Manning, SPT
Morgan Richards, SPT