Physical Therapy Or Prescription Medication For Pain Management?

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By John W. Nulty

With October recognized as National Physical Therapy month, I wanted to share some information on the U.S. opioid epidemic, and how you and your loved ones can avoid being part of this national crisis.

In March 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued opioid prescription guidelines, recognizing that prescription opioids are appropriate in certain cases for pain management, but in other instances, recommends that patients choose physical therapy as an alternative to prescribed opioids. For example, the CDC supports exercise as part of a physical therapy treatment plan for pain or function problems, such as low back and hip pain, knee osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia.

I’ve had many patients arrive on their initial visit, frustrated and in pain, stating they’ve tried “everything” but still haven’t received any relief of their pain. After exploring their medical history, I often find that the attempts to relieve their pain, such as prescription medication, haven’t actually addressed the issue, but just reduced the symptoms without eliminating them.

What many people don’t realize, is that physical therapy isn’t just for the rehabilitation of injuries. This specific therapy has long been a safe and effective way to treat and manage pain. Take, for instance, lower back pain (LBP). Approximately 80 percent of individuals will experience LBP at some point in their life. LBP has been documented as one of the top reasons people take sick days from work.

There are multiple treatments available for lower back pain, such as spinal manipulation, manual therapy and physical exercise—all of which can be addressed by a physical therapist. Why not consider that alternative option of care? Physical therapists don’t only address the pain. They work to ensure the patient restores or maintains their mobility, range of motion, strength and function, assisting to improve their overall quality of life.

Opioids, on the other hand, do play a role in addressing pain, but come with associated risks. Before accepting prescription pain medication, the best course of action would be to review the side effects of all prescribed medication, the risks vs. rewards and if the condition will be resolved or just provide temporary relief.

Take a few minutes to have the conversation with your doctor or a qualified medical professional, to ensure you are making the right choice for your health and well-being. Your body will thank you for it.

John W. Nulty PT, DPT, MS, OCS, CSCS, is the clinical director and physical therapist at Professional Physical Therapy in West Islip.

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