No one wants to live in pain. But no one should put their health at risk in an effort to be pain free. That's why the CDC recommends safer alternatives like physical therapy to manage pain.
Physical therapists treat pain through movement, hands-on care, and patient education—and by increasing physical activity you can also reduce your risk of other chronic diseases.
Pain is personal, but treating pain takes teamwork.
Before you agree to a prescription for opioids, consult with a physical therapist to discuss options for nonopioid treatment when...
- The risks of opioid use outweigh the rewards.
Potential side effects of opioids include depression, overdose, and addiction, plus withdrawal symptoms when stopping opioid use. Because of these risks, "experts agreed that opioids should not be considered firstline or routine therapy for chronic pain," the CDC guidelines state. Even in cases when evidence on the long-term benefits of non-opioid therapies is limited, "risks are much lower" with non-opioid treatment plans.
- Patients want to do more than mask the pain.
Opioids reduce the sensation of pain by interrupting pain signals to the brain. Physical therapists treat pain through movement while partnering with patients to improve or maintain their mobility and quality of life.
- Pain or function problems are related to low back pain, hip or knee osteoarthritis, or fibromyalgia.
The CDC cites "high-quality evidence" supporting exercise as part of a physical therapy treatment plan for those familiar conditions.
- Pain lasts 90 days.
At this point, the pain is considered "chronic," and the risks for continued opioid use increase. An estimated 116 million Americans have chronic pain each year. The CDC guidelines note that nonopioid therapies are "preferred" for chronic pain and that "clinicians should consider opioid therapy only if expected benefits for both pain and function are anticipated to outweigh risks to the patient."