The role of physical therapy (PT) in combating the epidemic of opioid addiction can be seen in two primary ways:

Firstly, PTs fulfill a role of being an access point for patients entering into medical care. As a movement-related profession, we assess and address mechanical orthopedic conditions by alleviating pain and improving function. Many instances of acute as well as sub-acute pain can benefit from movement, and even see fairly rapid improvement. This can negate the need for prescription opioids altogether within the individual’s episode of care.

Secondly, PTs function as exercise specialists. Exercise has been proven to be an effective adjunct for pain reduction in a variety of conditions, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, tendonitis, chronic pain, athletic injuries, and post-operatively, to name a few.

As taken from a recently published white paper on the subject by the APTA: “Once the contributors to a patient’s pain are identified – and the patient’s functional and mobility goals are clear – the PT designs an individualized treatment program combining the most-appropriate techniques, including but not limited to, exercise, manual therapy, and education to address the
underlying problems.”

The important word here is “underlying”. These treatments are not intended to mask the pain, but to attempt to remove the cause. Considering this, PT treatment is typically not a ‘quick fix,’ but a process that involves active participation from the therapist as well as the patient.

References 1. Beyond Opioids: How Physical Therapy Can Transform Pain Management to Improve Health. APTA white paper. 2018.

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