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Opioids, Pain and Physical Therapy

It seems that everyone in the medical community and government is talking about the opioid crisis.  It is a big concern not only for the medical community, but also for everyone who suffers from pain and is searching for relief.

The problem has reached epidemic proportions prompting the entire health care industry to re-evaluate the need for opioid based prescription medications and to find alternatives to help people manage their pain without them.

According to the National Safety Council, over 42,000 Americans died in 2016 due to opioid overdoses. That is around 115 people per day!

What exactly are opioids?

Opioids such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, oxymorphone, morphine, codeine, fentanyl, and morphine are drugs generally prescribed for pain management purposes.  They work by inhibiting, or quieting, the pain signals in the brain.

Dependence or addiction to opioids happens when the physiological balance is altered due to overuse.  Once someone becomes dependent, she can experience severe withdrawal symptoms if she tries stops taking the drugs.

In addition to withdrawal symptoms, the pain that was the original problem can return and even become worse without the drugs.

How We Got Here

Opioid pain medications were once touted as the miracle solution to pain.  The pharmaceutical companies spent millions to educate healthcare providers on the safety and effectiveness of the pain medications.  Patients were able to manage long term chronic pain with a simple prescription.  Little did these healthcare professionals realize the addictive qualities. The dangers remained hidden.

After years of distribution to the public, it has become clear that opioids are not the miracle solution.  Even though the drugs may help reduce pain, they do far more damage than previously known.

Why Pain Medications are Not Always the Answer to Pain

Pain is complex.   Scientists and healthcare professionals are only beginning to scratch the surface on how pain works and how it can be effectively managed.

Pain is the result of an intricate system designed to alert the brain to and protect the body against injury.  As amazing as this system is, it doesn’t always work perfectly.

Sometimes, pain occurs after an injury has healed or even if there is no injury at all.  A glitch in the nervous system results in the brain interpreting some signals as painful even though there is no injury or harm that should be causing pain.  This is generally known as chronic pain.

Opioids control pain by temporarily blocking the signals.  The brain no longer identifies the signal as painful, therefore, there is no more pain.

It is very important to note that no pain medications, whether opioid or not, does not mend the injury.  Pain medications do not make any changes to the physical issue itself.  They only quiet the pain by inhibiting the signal.

What Are Alternatives to Opioids?

Chronic pain greatly diminishes the quality of life one can have.  Understanding that opioids and strong pain medications may not be the answer is one of the first steps in reclaiming your life.

Healthcare professionals and scientists are working hard to find alternatives to opioids and to help people manage their pain.  But there are other solutions which have been around for decades that research has shown to be very beneficial.

Physical therapy is proven to be an effective method of pain management.  Physical therapists use non-pharmaceutical strategies to reduce the excessive pain signaling from the nervous system as well as help the body to move in safe, non-threatening ways that can improve your function.

Physical therapy offers a solution to those who do not wish to take opioids and is quickly becoming a popular choice for patients with pain.

If you or someone you know is suffering from pain, seek out a licensed physical therapist!