In 2017 the U.S. President and the Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency related to opioid deaths. Last September, the Office of the Inspector General revealed that opioid-related overdose deaths are at an all-time high—more than 81,000 per year.1 Among patients aged 15 to 64 receiving opioids for chronic, non-cancer pain, one in 550 die from an opioid-related overdose at a median of 2.6 years from their first prescription. That risk of death from overdose increases to one in 32 patients when the prescription is greater than 200 morphine milligram equivalents.2 The crisis is well publicized, and the healthcare community is strategizing ways to reduce the problem.
One part of the solution should be better use of physical therapy. In July, PM&R published the work of Lindsey Brown-Taylor, PT, PhD, analyzing the relationship between physical therapy use and opioid use.3 They reviewed the results of 30 different studies. Researchers concluded that physical therapy was associated with lower use of opioids across a range of conditions: back pain, spine pain, joint pain, and work injuries. Most of the studies evaluating timing found that immediate or early physical therapy produced the best outcomes. The generalized result is that repeated, professionally guided sessions of exercise therapy reduce opioid use 20% to 80% across all diagnoses studied to date. If you are managing injury, chronic pain, or pain that could turn chronic, please contact us about how physical therapy could help.