Opioid Dangers for Long Term Pain Management

October 11, 2022

October is National Physical Therapy Month. And as medical professionals across the U.S. work together to expound the benefits of physical therapy, the team at New Life Physical Therapy is joining the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) in highlighting a topic that affects the lives of millions: opioid awareness.

More specifically, says physical therapist Mary Rose Strickland, co-owner of New Life Physical Therapy, the goal is to create awareness around the fact that physical therapy is a safe and effective alternative to opioids (i.e., Vicodin and OxyContin) for long-term pain management.

This is according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which in March of 2016 released guidelines urging non-opioid solutions (such as physical therapy) for the management of chronic pain.

“There’s definitely a time and a place for the use of prescription pain medication, but the misuse of opioids in our country is very real,” said Strickland, pointing out that the CDC reports more than 1,000 people are treatment in emergency rooms every day for misusing prescription opioids.  It’s not just adults, Strickland says, more and more young adults and teenagers are becoming addicted and misusing opioids.

With more awareness drawn to the addiction and misuse of prescription medications, many providers have cut back on their prescription or refilling of these medications.  For individuals already addicted, it leads them to the street to find or purchase medication and other forms of opioid drugs to manage their pain and feed their addictions.

Other scary facts about opioids, according to the CDC:

  • Any Opioid misuse, overuse and addiction contributed to the death of over 68,000 individuals in 2020
  • From 2019 to 2020, the number of deaths involving prescription opiods rose, after remaining steady for two years.
  • As many as one in four people who receive prescription opioids long-term for non-cancer pain in primary care settings end up struggling with addiction.

“It’s truly an epidemic in our country,” Strickland said. “But as a physical therapist I’m in a hopeful position to help people manage their chronic pain in ways that are safer and oftentimes more effective than using prescription drugs.”

A person’s body is often in pain due to biomechanical problems.  For example, their hip doesn’t move well and as a result it puts more pressure on the spine with every step they take and movement they make.  Treating that problem with a biochemical solution, such as an opioid, may temporarily manage the pain, but doesn’t fix the underlying biomechanical problem.  To fix a biomechanical problem, you need a biomechanical solution.

“Enter Physical Therapy,” Strickland says.  By identifying the root cause of the problem, we can treat it on a deeper level, so the structure doesn’t remain irritated and causing pain.  “‘Movement is medicine’ is not a phrase we use lightly in the physical therapy profession,” said Strickland. “But the solution isn’t as easy as just suggesting movement and exercise. All chronic pain sufferers are different, and through one-on-one care, we’re able to identify and address the physical as well as some of the mental and emotional factors that stand in the way of safe and effective pain care management.”

Education on why one hurts, understanding pain and how it is supposed to function, compared to how it is functioning for an individual is a good starting point.  Once an individual understand why they hurt, it’s much easier to put together a pain plan.  From aerobic exercise, strength and flexibility exercises, and taking tasks and breaking them in to small pieces to practice can be quite effective. New Life Physical Therapists can identify the causes of chronic pain, then establish individualized treatment plans for managing, decreasing, and possibly eliminating the pain.