Physical Therapy Can Help Reduce the Risk of Opioid Use - PT Effect

Physical Therapy Can Help Reduce the Risk of Opioid Use

Physical therapy early in the treatment process can replace opioid use
Read Time: 1.5 minutes
Jun 7, 2021

In the past few decades, hundreds of thousands of people have died from opioid overdoses. Opioids, which are commonly prescribed to treat pain, can easily become addictive. While opioids may sometimes be necessary to treat pain, they can also be very risky because of their addictive nature.

Fortunately, there may be an alternative to prescription opioids for managing pain. A study has found that physical therapy can help to reduce the risk of patients needing opioids to deal with their pain.

Physical Therapy Reduces Opioid Risk by up to 16%

Physical therapist working on a patient’s neck

A 2018 study from the Schools of Medicine at both Stanford and Duke Universities found that patients with knee, lower back, neck, or shoulder pain, were up to 7% to 16% less likely to use opioids to reduce their pain if they had physical therapy early in their treatment. Additionally, the study found that patients who were treated with opioids and physical therapy used up to 10% less of their prescribed opioids.

Physical Therapy as an Alternative to Opioids

Physical therapy may be able to help reduce patients’ reliance on opioids by offering an alternative solution. The study looked for ways to reduce the risk of opioid use while still addressing the pain management needs of people with chronic pain. The researchers discovered that, if prescribed early in the pain management and treatment process, physical therapy could not only reduce the number of opioid drugs taken but also replace the opioids altogether.

Physical therapist helping a patient

Physical Therapy is an Important Part of Pain Management

While neither opioids nor physical therapy is a magic solution to managing pain, physical therapy is an important component in helping patients deal with physical pain. The researchers in the study thought it important for clinicians to know the effects physical therapy can have on reducing patients’ need to use opioids. This is especially important because patients who have already used opioids in the past are more at risk of addiction if they use them again.

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Mark Shulman

Dr. Mark Shulman

Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), FAAOMPT, COMT, CSCS


Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapists.

Mark Shulman

Dr. Allison McKay

Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), PRPC


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