In light of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s (CDC) mid-March release of new guidelines questioning the safety and effectiveness of subscription opioid use for the treatment of chronic pain, Buffalo Grove physical therapist Gopal T. Raghunath, PT MS, DPT, CSCS points out that physical therapy has long been considered a safer, cheaper and more effective treatment for such conditions.
In fact, the CDC report itself lists physical therapy and exercise as options for managing chronic pain that “may actually work better” than oft abused opiate painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin – and with fewer risks and side effects.
“Given the potential harmful long-term side effects of opiates, I would certainly prefer progressive exercise and movement therapy,” said Dr.
Raghunath, owner and clinical director of Buffalo Grove Physical Therapy & Sports Rehabilitation, P.C. “Exercise, when prescribed in appropriate therapeutic doses, not only helps improve strength, flexibility and cardiorespiratory endurance, but also stimulates endorphin production to bring about feelings of well-bearing and reduce pain, thereby making it ‘wonder drug’ itself.”
An often debilitating condition that can lead to fatigue, depression and anxiety, chronic pain is defined as persistent pain that continues for months – even years.
The country’s top federal health agency, the CDC established its new guidelines based on research and trends that suggest the risk of opiate drugs far outweigh the benefits in most people. Such drugs are addicting and often overused and abused, stated the CDC, contributing to the death of nearly 20,000 Americans in 2014 alone.
“We know of no other medication routinely used for a nonfatal condition that kills patients so frequently,” said CDC Director Thomas Friedman in a recent USA Today article. “We hope to see fewer deaths from opiates. That’s the bottom line.”
In contrast, several studies over the years points to movement, exercise and individualized physical therapy as effective options for treating chronic pain. A report about chronic pain released by the National Institutes of Health in January of 2015, in fact, specifically mentions physical therapy as a key, non-pharmaceutical option for treating, managing and even ending chronic pain.
“Despite what is commonly done in current clinical practice, there appear to be few data to support the long-term use of opioids for chronic pain management,” states the report titled “The Role of Opioids in the Treatment of Chronic Pain.”
“Chronic pain can indeed be physically and emotionally depleting,” said Dr. Raghunath. “However, it can be treated safely and effectively with physical therapy. Regular exercise performed in appropriate increments is a lifestyle choice that empowers individuals to establish and maintain control of their health and their lives.”
From education, strength and flexibility training and manual therapy, to posture awareness and body mechanics instruction, physical therapists are licensed and trained to identify the causes of chronic pain, then establish an individualized treatment plan for alleviating and possibly eliminating the pain.