The ongoing opioid crisis in the United States reflects the unintended consequences of a nationwide effort to help individuals control their pain. The health care system has, since the mid-1990s, employed an approach to pain management that focuses on the pharmacological masking of pain, rather than treating the actual cause of the pain when its source can be identified. This strategy has resulted in a dramatic increase in opioid prescribing, causing widespread opioid misuse and addiction.
Physical therapy has an important role in pain management and rehabilitation by focusing treatment on prevention and management of injuries or disabilities. Physical therapy helps to relieve pain, promote healing, and restore function and movement. When physical therapists work with patients in pain, they use tests and measures to determine the causes of that pain and to assess its intensity, quality and physical characteristics. They also evaluate individuals for risk factors for pain to help prevent future pain issues.
A therapist may focus on decreasing pain with either passive or active therapy. Examples of passive physical therapy include: manual therapies, heat/ice packs, electrical stimulation, including TENS units, ultrasound and dry needling. Examples of active physical therapy include: movement based activities, including stretching and range of motion exercises, specific strengthening exercises, pain relief exercises and low-impact aerobic conditioning such as hydrotherapy.While many of these methods of treatment can be accessed without direct contact with a physical therapist, there are numerous potential dangers if treatment is being conducted by someone who is uninformed.
Highly trained and experienced physical therapy staff provide safe and appropriate personalized treatment to a wide and varied range of conditions. Therapists guide patients from the initial assessment through to discharge while monitoring progress and adapting treatment to meet the needs of that individual.