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The Opioid Crisis

Choose PT

PT VS. Opioid Prescriptions

The United States is in an opioid epidemic. There has been extensive research performed by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) that have created guidelines for appropriate care when it comes to treating chronic pain. The focus of the APTA campaign against opioid use is to “choosePT”. This article will highlight the increasing use of opioids across the United States and the effectiveness of a non-pharmacological approaches for treating pain.

In the last 19 years the use of opioid prescriptions has quadrupled. According to PT Now, in 2012, health care providers wrote 259 million opioid prescriptions, enough for every adult in the United States to have a bottle of pills. The interesting fact however, is that even though the prescriptions have increased there is no evidence that there has been an increase in the amount of reported pain.

​American’s consume prescription opioids at a greater rate than any other population in the world. Kaiser Health has determined that America fills about 4.5 billion prescriptions each year. This costs more than $323 billion dollars. Vicodin and Narco, which is a mixture of hydrocodone and acetaminophen, is the number 1 prescription drug in 10 states and Alaska is one of those ten states.

​Opioids can be appropriate for certain diagnosis including cancer treatment, palliative care, end-of-life care, and certain acute pain situations. The bigger problem is they are being prescribed for acute pain (pain lasting less than 3 months) and their prescribed without assistance from non-pharmaceutical approaches. Opioids and other pharmaceutical drugs are designed to reduce the sensation of pain and are not always able to treat the true cause of pain. This will result in masking of the symptoms and can impede your recovery. The potential side effects of opioid use far outweigh the benefits of taking them. Excessive use of opioids can lead to depression, overdose, addiction, withdrawal when stopping opioid use. These side effects can be life threatening. There is an appropriate dose of opioids for certain conditions and according to the CDC these doses should be at "the lowest effective dosage," and "should be combined" with non-opioid therapies, such as physical therapy.

​Physical therapy is a movement-based intervention that is focused on improving function and achieving your goals to improve your overall quality of life. The APTA and CDC cites “high- quality evidence” to highlight the effectiveness of non-opioid treatment specifically with low back pain, hip or knee osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia. Physical therapy utilizes manual and non-manual techniques such as modalities and exercise to focus on the actual cause of the pain. A physical therapist will focus on the individual person to give them the highest quality of care to restore the patient’s mobility and allow them to continue to participate in their activities as well as help them reduce, eliminate, and/or control their pain at manageable levels to live their life.

Ask a physical therapist near you today how they can help reduce your pain and restore your lifestyle!


“Beyond Opioids: How Physical Therapy Can Transform Pain Management to Improve Health.” American Physical Therapy Association, 1 June 2018,

Gold, Jenny, and Kaiser Health News. “Graphic: Opioid Painkiller Is Top Prescription In 10 States.” Kaiser Health News, Kaiser Health News, 27 Mar. 2018,

“Providing a Safe Alternative to Opioids: Resources for Pain Management.” PTNow, 24 Aug. 2017,

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