Fighting Opioid Abuse with Early Physical Therapy

by Wellness Editor – MH

Opioid abuse is a major problem in the United States, accounting for more than 47,000 deaths in 2017 alone. Many people become addicted to such medications after suffering significant physical injuries. If a team of researchers from two elite American Universities is correct, early physical therapy might help curb long-term opioid use.

Putting in Work

This report comes courtesy of researchers from Stanford and Duke University, and compared subjects who began therapy shortly after pain diagnoses against those who started treatment later. To do this, the authors reviewed a whopping 88,985 private health insurance claims over an eight year timeframe (2007 through 2015). 

Those who began physical therapy within three months of receiving a pain diagnosis were noticeably less likely to use opioids in the following months. The gap between these two groups varied based on the location of the pain. For lower back pain, the difference was 7 percent; for neck pain, 8 percent. The gap increased to 15 percent when it came to shoulder pain, and topped out at 16 percent when the focus turned to knee pain diagnoses.

Alternative Options

In a Stanford University press release detailing the report, study author Eric Sun stated that “we asked ourselves, ‘How can we address the pain that people are having, while not increasing their risk of needing opioids?’And what our study found was that if you can get these patients on physical therapy reasonably quickly, that reduces the probability that they’ll be using opioids in the longer term.”

Sun believes that his team’s work could encourage doctors to pursue pain treatment plans that don’t involve the use of opioids. “This isn’t a world where there are magic bullets. But many guidelines suggest that physical therapy is an important component of pain management, and there is little downside to trying it.”

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