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Physical Therapy Can Reduce Long-Term Opioid Use


By Jonathan Block

December 17, 2018

Physical Therapy Can Reduce Long-Term Opioid Use

Some patients with musculoskeletal pain – pain impacting the bones, ligaments, muscles and tendons – who start physical therapy soon after their diagnosis are less likely to use opioids over the long term.

Researchers conducted an observational study by examining insurance claims of about 89,000 adults with musculoskeletal pain involving the shoulder, neck, knee and lower back. Patients who had taken an opioid within a year were not included in the study. Those who began physical therapy within three months of their diagnosis were 7% to 16% less likely to use opioids in the following months, according to results published in JAMA Network Open.

In addition, among those with back, knee and shoulder pain who did use opioids, having physical therapy early on was linked to a 5% to 10% reduction in how much of the medication they took. Results showed that those who started physical therapy and who had knee or shoulder pain used about 10% less opioid medication three months to a year after their initial diagnosis compared to those who didn’t get physical therapy. For those with back pain, the figure was 5% less.

“The general consensus is that for musculoskeletal pain, opioids generally aren’t a long-term solution,” senior author Eric Sun, MD, PhD, Stanford School of Medicine, said in a statement. “Aside from all the other side effects, even if the medication is doing well for you, it will have less and less effect over time as your body builds up a tolerance.”

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Last updated: December 17, 2018