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Lake Regional Observes Physical Therapy Month, Focuses on PT as an Alternative to Opioids

Monday, October 16, 2017

October is National Physical Therapy Month. For the second year in a row, Lake Regional Health System is supporting the #ChoosePT campaign. The American Physical Therapy Association started this campaign to raise awareness about the risks of prescription opioids and to inform the public that physical therapy is a safe and effective alternative for managing and preventing pain.

"It's unusual to have the same theme twice for National Physical Therapy Month," said Courtney Hulett, P.T., Lake Regional's Rehab Therapy director. "We are using the #ChoosePT campaign again because people still need to hear that prescription painkillers are not the only option for pain relief. We want people to find safe treatment for their pain."

In response to a growing opioid epidemic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released opioid prescription guidelines in March 2016. The guidelines recognize that prescription opioids are appropriate in certain cases, including cancer treatment, palliative care and end-of-life care, and also in certain acute care situations, if properly dosed.

But for other pain management, the CDC recommends non-opioid approaches, which include physical therapy.

Patients should choose physical therapy when:

The risks of opioid use outweigh the rewards. Potential side effects of opioids include depression, overdose and addiction, plus withdrawal symptoms when stopping opioid use. Because of these risks, "experts agreed that opioids should not be considered first-line or routine therapy for chronic pain," the CDC guidelines state.

Patients want to do more than mask the pain. Opioids reduce the sensation of pain by interrupting pain signals to the brain. Physical therapists treat pain through promoting healing and restoring function and movement.

Pain or function problems are related to low back pain, hip or knee osteoarthritis, or fibromyalgia. The CDC cites "high-quality evidence" supporting exercise as part of a physical therapy treatment plan for those familiar conditions.

Opioids are prescribed for pain. Even in situations when opioids are prescribed, the CDC recommends that patients should receive "the lowest effective dosage," and opioids "should be combined" with non-opioid therapies, such as physical therapy.

Pain lasts 90 days. At this point, the pain is considered "chronic," and the risks for continued opioid use increase. An estimated 116 million Americans have chronic pain each year. The CDC guidelines note that non-opioid therapies are "preferred" for chronic pain and that "clinicians should consider opioid therapy only if expected benefits for both pain and function are anticipated to outweigh risks to the patient."

Talk with your doctor about options for non-opioid treatment. Physical therapists also can play a valuable role in the patient education process, including setting realistic expectations for recovery with or without opioids.

"If someone you love struggles with chronic pain, encourage them to talk to their primary care provider or a physical therapist about how they can manage that pain without prescription medications," Hulett said. "People should not accept chronic pain without exhausting all options. There are safe ways to manage and prevent it."

Lake Regional provides physical therapy in Camdenton, Eldon, Lake Ozark, Laurie and Osage Beach. To schedule an appointment with a Lake Regional physical therapist, ask your doctor for a referral or call 573.302.2230. Visit to learn more.