Can physical therapy help reduce use of opioids?

Can physical therapy help reduce use of opioids?

Can physical therapy help reduce use of opioids?

With the United States battling the opioid epidemic, it has become imperative to lessen the use of opioids as prescription drugs. In the recent years, there has been a striking increase in the use of prescription opioids, especially for the treatment of chronic pain, such as spondylosis or osteoarthritis. In fact, these painkillers are also used to treat mild-to-severe pain and are often prescribed to get relief from pain due to surgery, injury or cancer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) 2015 report, opioid overdose deaths increased by 14 percent during 2013-14. The report also highlights that since 2000, the rate of deaths from drug overdose has increased 137 percent, including a 200 percent jump in the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids (opioid pain relievers and heroin).

Each day 44 people die from overdose of prescription painkillers in the U.S., says CDC. In 2013, nearly 2 million Americans abused prescription painkillers, it said, while nearly 7,000 people were treated in the emergency departments of hospitals every day for drug overdose.

Alternative to opioids

However, a study at the University of Alberta published on in January 2016 said that people who were suffering from pain and were given physical therapy rather than opioids seemed to benefit more. Patients who were not taking powerful painkillers to ease the pain while rebuilding physical ability were able to get a great deal of relief. The researchers suggested that physical therapy programs in accordance with a patient’s pain tolerance, using a graded approach, helps him/her to function better, slowly but surely.

Geoff Bostick, an associate professor of physical therapy at the University of Alberta, said, “Even though opioid medications can be a powerful painkiller, it does not necessarily mean improved function will follow – pain is not the only factor in determining function.” He added that a patient will have difficulty in moving if he is suffering from chronic pain; however, it is extremely important to help the patient make an effort towards movement, even if it is painful.

The researchers studied 789 patients being treated for neuropathic pain from nerve injuries in Canada. They were being treated with less than 200 milligrams of an opioid, more than 200 milligrams, or none. The patients who were not prescribed any opioid had statistically lower disabilities and higher physical function scores over the course of 12 months than those who received the drugs, after adjusting for the severity of individual conditions.

Bostick added that though opioids can be useful for managing pain, it may not be able to get the patient function fully in his day-to-day life, thus making him depend on the painkiller for temporary relief. In due course of time, the patient gets addicted to the opioid. He suggested that patients should use careful measurement of their pain tolerance, walking until they reach the halfway point of what they can handle and stop before it gets too bad, in order to build tolerance over time, thus refraining themselves from the regular use of opioids.

How can physical therapy help?

Tom Watson, P.T., D.P.T., clinical director of Peak Performance Physical Therapy in Bend, Oregon said that physical therapy can be highly effective for all types of chronic musculoskeletal and neuropathic types of pain. Physical therapy may involve a plethora of pain management methods, like:

  • Massage
  • Manipulation of joints and bones
  • Manual therapy using hands or tools on soft tissue
  • Cold laser therapy to alleviate inflammation and pain and release endorphins
  • Movement therapy and exercise

Pain hampers a patient in regular movement. However, the less one moves, the more pain one can experience. But an effective therapy combined with exercise will help a patient to accommodate pain, thus helping him function well on a daily basis. Watson also says that physical therapy coupled with other therapies such as heat and cold therapy, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy and other nutritional supplements can help in pain management.

Looking at the excessive use of opioids and subsequent addiction and deaths caused by it, alternatives like physical therapies should be further explored. Such therapies may cure many people who are prospective opioid addicts.

If you or your loved one is battling with an opioid addiction, seek medical assistance immediately. Call the Prescription Drug Addiction Helpline at 866-623-3847 or chat online to get in touch with an expert who can help you find the right treatment program around you.

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