Physical Therapy: An Alternative to Opioids for Managing Chronic Pain


In its 2016 evidence-based guidance on prescribing opioids, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stressed the importance of considering non-opioid approaches for pain management, and that “opioids should not be considered firstline or routine therapy for chronic pain.” While opioids only cover up pain by blocking pain signals to the brain (plus come with a range of side effects and addictive tendencies), options like physical therapy can get to the root of the pain, help with mobility, and improve quality of life.

A 2018 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that early physical therapy resulted in reduced risk of opioid use for patients with knee, shoulder, neck or low back pain. There was also a 10 percent reduction in the number of opioid pills taken by patients who were already prescribed opioids, but who had engaged in physical therapy early on. While there are situations where opioids can be warranted for chronic pain (such as for cancer or end of life care), taking the time to have a consult with a physical therapist can help with weighing the benefits and risks of opioid use, with the additive or alternative benefit of physical therapy.

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA)’s #ChoosePT campaign aims to educate patients and families on the role of physical therapists in treating pain through “movement, hands-on care, and education.” Exercise, in general, can improve overall mobility and health, support weight management, and help reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases, such as diabetes. The APTA offers an online tool to locate a physical therapist in a specific geographic area. Even just one education session with a physical therapist to discuss options can open a door to a healthier life for those struggling with pain.


About the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP)

The Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP), a non-profit organization founded in 2011 by the White House, represents the technology sector and commerce intermediaries including Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Oath, UPS, PayPal, MasterCard, Discover, American Express, and .Health.  CSIP’s mission is to promote industry best practices as it relates to illegal online pharmacies, and educating consumers about safe purchasing of prescription drugs.