How Physical Therapy is Helping to Fight the Opioid Crisis

By?Brian Rog?for ATI Physical Therapy

For decades, long-term chronic pain management was widely believed to be controlled through opioids, such as Hydrocodone, Methadone and Oxycodone; however, new research suggests that opioids may only serve to merely mask or block the perception of pain. With more than?30 percent of Americans?suffering from acute or chronic pain, the CDC has seen a major spike in opioid overuse and addiction cases, which should come to no surprise given the disabling effects of chronic pain.

In 2016 alone, opioids contributed to about?17,000 deaths, and recently, authorities are estimating that deaths in the related overdose epidemic are likely to increase by more than 70 percent. Opioid abuse was also just recently classified as an epidemic by the federal government. While many experts question the lack of long-term favorable results among most opioid users, the physical therapy industry is stepping up to be that beacon of hope for those in need. With a proven history in combatting aches, pains and discomfort, physical therapy is becoming a viable, non-medicated solution for those in search of remedying this physical and mental agony.

How can physical therapy fight pain?

Physical therapy is playing a leading role in tackling the opioid epidemic by restoring wellness and mobility in the lives of those suffering from the effects of opioid overuse. Unlike opioids, physical therapy doesn?t mask pain. In its full capacity, physical therapy may contribute to major reductions in pain and significant gains in physical independence through the use of effective, individualized treatments. Clinicians work with patients to develop calculated and adapted programs that progress patients from rest to unrestricted, and in many instances, pain-free activity.

ATI Physical Therapy, in particular, employs research-driven treatment methods derived from its in-house research and data teams, which has shown to improve rehabilitation outcomes. As a result, these methods have effectively helped millions of patients get back to significantly reduced and/or pain-free living.

A recent study by ATI Physical Therapy, My Health First Network, BCBS and Greenville Health System (GHS) found that 70 percent of patients that utilized physical therapy first for spine, shoulder and knee pain were successfully treated without the use of imaging, prescription medicine or additional physician visits. Access to physical therapy is a cost-effective way to address many common aches and pains that affect much of the population. In many cases, a doctor’s referral is not required, though it?s recommended to consult with your insurance carrier to determine if a referral is necessary as well as a primary physician to see if physical therapy is an option for you.

How opioids cause addiction

?Opioid overuse cases lie in the tolerance trajectory, which in the short-term proves to be effective in small doses. Over time, small doses become unsuccessful in providing therapeutic effect, causing users to increase intake (and in some cases, potency), which evolves into a vicious dependency that becomes growingly difficult to vacate. While short-term opioid use may help post-surgery conditions, long-term use can prove to be fatal. It?s estimated that?one in every four?opioid users fall victim to the dangers of abuse and more than?1,000 people?are treated daily in ERs for prescription opioid misuse.

?In my practice, the first concern is to understand what is causing the patient?s pain and then look to treat the cause rather than the symptom,? said Dr. Wajde Dabah, medical director of Pain Therapy Associates. ?Physical therapy is an under-utilized option that should be considered as a first line treatment for pain. It offers an opioid-free, long-term solution for approaching the primary cause of the pain. Physical therapy is one of the fundamental pillars I use to address pain and should be part of every comprehensive treatment plan.?

Hear the interview with Dr. Wajde Dabah on SportsMedicineWeekly Episode 17.23

Given the severity of this opioid overuse surge, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging health care providers to reduce the use of opioids in favor of safe, non-medicated alternatives such as physical therapy.

Let?s make a goal and tackle it together

If you are struggling with managing your chronic pain, ATI Physical Therapy can help! To schedule a complimentary screening, make an appointment, or ask your doctor about ATI for your therapy needs, visit or call (855) MY-ATIPT (855-692-8478).

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