During a time researchers and health care professionals are working collaboratively to re-evaluate the safety and efficacy of prescription drugs to address chronic pain, Gopal T. Raghunath, PT MS, DPT, CSCS, owner/clinic director of Buffalo Grove Physical Therapy & Sports Rehabilitation, P.C., says physical therapy offers a safer and more cost-efficient remedy for such conditions.
The topic is indeed appropriate as we dive into Pain Awareness Month, an annual effort by the American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA).
A staggering 25 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). A January 2015 report notes physical therapy as a suitable, non-pharmaceutical alternative for chronic pain management.
“Movement is in essence medicine for both the mind and body, and is indeed a healthier choice for those suffering from chronic pain,” said Dr. Raghunath.
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), in its newly released guidelines as of March, specifically highlights physical therapy as a safe and more effective treatment measure for chronic pain compared with opiates such as Vicodin and OxyContin. Additionally, the CDC reports that opioid use led to more than 28,000 deaths in 2014 alone.
Unlike acute pain, attributed to a specific ailment such as burn or fracture, and spanning from the time of injury to approximately 7 to 10 days, chronic pain is discomfort persisting for 3 months or more and carries an emotional component. The ACPA describes chronic pain as “pain that continues when it should not.”
“Individuals with chronic pain can begin to feel hopeless and, in turn, desperate for any solution, considering they have been suffering for a long period with minimal to no relief in symptoms,” said Dr. Raghunath. “Thus, it’s not surprising that prescription drugs including opiates may at first seem like a great option, though for many can be addicting. However, the side-effects can be harmful and, in turn, an unfavorable long-term solution.”
Through appropriate postural education, ergonomics, body awareness training, flexibility, strength and cardiovascular conditioning, physical therapists are licensed and trained specialists who evaluate, identify and assess the causes of chronic pain. Based on his/her physical findings, a physical therapist will customize a plan of care to address one’s condition, says Dr. Raghunath.