Costs vs. Benefits of Opioid Use
The abuse of prescription opioid medication in the United States has risen to epidemic proportions. Although the CDC guidelines on prescription opioids recognize that opioids are appropriate under certain circumstances, medical providers should only consider opioids “only if expected benefits for both pain and function are anticipated to outweigh risks to the patient.”
Frequent and prolonged opioid use has dangerous side effects, including addiction, depression, overdose, and withdrawal symptoms after ending regular use. The magnitude of these risks increases when opioid medication is prescribed for “chronic” pain lasting more than 90 days. As a result, the CDC announced that opioids should not be considered the initial approach for pain management nor a viable substitute for routine therapy.
Given the apparent risks associated with opioid use, the purported benefits are less evident. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that opioids are no more effective than nonopioid pain medications, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, for treating chronic back pain or osteoarthritis-related joint pain.
Benefits of Using Physical Therapy for Pain Management
Opioid medication is often prescribed to patients dealing with post-operative surgical pain, or those suffering from chronic pain. Opioids dull the intensity of pain by interfering with pain signals heading to the brain. While opioids may address pain as a symptom, they do nothing to deal with its underlying cause.
Conversely, physical therapy treats pain by improving a person’s motion and maintaining their mobility and subsequent quality of life — the CDC referenced high-quality evidence, suggesting that utilizing exercise through physical therapy can be a highly effective treatment plan for pain related to low back conditions, osteoarthritis, or fibromyalgia.
Give the high costs and the questionable benefits involving using opioid medication for pain management; opioid use appears to benefit only a narrow set of circumstances. The CDC guidelines recognized that opioids are appropriate for cancer treatment, palliative care, end-of-life care, and certain acute care situations. As you can see, the circumstances where the benefits of opioid use outweigh its risks are limited to terminal cases where the patient’s quality of life is meager. At that point, almost any method for tackling chronic or recurring pain can yield benefits that outweigh the risks opioids present to the patient’s health and quality of life given their prognosis.
Patients should forego the use of prescription opioids for pain management and consider physical therapy in the following situations:
- To improve functional mobility in addition to pain reduction
- When pain and functional mobility stem from back and joint injuries, inflammation or nerve conditions such as fibromyalgia
- Prescribed to address temporary pain due to post-operative conditions from surgery
- Prescribed to treat chronic pain
Consult a Knowledgeable Physical Therapist in Monmouth County
Generating awareness for the potential health benefits that physical therapy can provide regarding pain management can help save a person’s life. Opioid treatment should be reserved as a last-resort approach for pain management. Otherwise, it should be used sparingly to supplement nonopioid alternatives to pain management. At ProFysio Physical Therapy, we are committed to arming our patients with the knowledge necessary to help them evaluate the best approach to managing their pain. Our physical therapists are licensed doctors with specialized training in the latest treatment techniques that optimize the potential for maximum rehabilitation and recovery.