Physical Therapy As A Safe Alternative to Opioids

Physical Therapy As A Safe Alternative to Opioids

June 4, 2024

As chronic pain is a very common issue, there have been increases in prescription of opioid medication, which has been accompanied by increases in opioid overdoses, opioid abuse, and other harms, as well as uncertainty about long term effectiveness and side effects. 

While people in pain are understandably looking for relief, unfortunately some people are putting their health at risk in an effort to be pain-free. Sometimes, opioid painkillers are an appropriate part of pain management, such as immediately post op or in cases of significant injury or trauma. However, some risks to opioid use include depression, overdose, addiction, and withdrawal symptoms. In addition, those who become addicted to prescription opioids are 40 times more likely to become addicted to heroin. 

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging healthcare providers to reduce the use of opioids in favor of safer alternatives like physical therapy. Physical therapists can help manage pain in 4 ways: 

Exercise: research has shown that regular exercise reduces chronic pain

Manual therapy: hands on therapy can reduce pain and improve movement

Education: Education about pain can actually reduce pain. PTs can help patients understand their pain histories and set realistic expectations for treatment

Teamwork: having a positive relationship with a PT and being an active participant in recovery can improve outcomes. PTs can assess response to treatment in real time and adjust treatment as many times as necessary to ensure optimal outcomes

Additionally, PT presents with minimal to no risks of significant side effects. Common side effects include temporary muscle soreness, fatigue, joint stiffness, and mild swelling. 

So if you are dealing with chronic pain, consider trying physical therapy as a safe and effective alternative to prescription opioids. 



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Chou R, Turner JA, Devine EB, et al. The effectiveness and risks of long-term opioid therapy for chronic pain: a systematic review for a National Institutes of Health Pathways to Prevention Workshop.Annals of internal medicine. 2015;162(4):276-286. doi: