The presence of pain is one of the most common reasons people seek health care. National surveys have found that chronic pain-defined as pain lasting longer than 3 months-affects approximately 100 million American adults and that the economic costs attributable to such pain approach $600 billion annually.
Pain has been described in the medical literature as a "uniquely individual and subjective experience" and "among the most controversial and complex" medical conditions to manage. The source of pain for any individual can vary, whether it's an underlying illness such as heart disease or cancer, an injury experienced recently or long ago, or the lingering effects of a medical procedure. Regardless, a report on the subject by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) notes that pain and its treatment "can be a lifelong challenge at the individual level and is a significant public health problem."
The treatment of pain, particularly chronic pain, often requires an integrated, multidisciplinary approach due to the many variables that may contribute to a patient's perception of pain and response to treatment. These variables can include the underlying cause(s) of the pain and the anticipated course of that condition, the available and accessible options for pain prevention and treatment, and the patient's personal goals, values, and expectations of health care. When individuals enter the health care system because of pain, their prospects for recovery—both immediate and long-term—are highly dependent on the system's response.
Physical therapy is a dynamic profession with an established theoretical and scientific basis for therapeutic interventions capable of restoring, maintaining, and promoting optimal physical function. Physical therapists work both independently and as members of multidisciplinary health care teams to enhance the health, well-being, and quality of life of their patients, who present with a wide range of conditions including those that commonly cause pain. The CDC's recommendations point to "high-quality evidence" that treatments provided by PTs are especially effective at reducing pain and improving function in cases of low back pain, fibromyalgia, and hip and knee osteoarthritis. Additionally, a number of studies show the efficacy of physical therapist interventions in preventing, minimizing, and, in some cases, eliminating pain in patients post-surgery, in patients with cancer, and in other clinical scenarios.
Modern society too often puts a premium on quick-fix solutions to complex problems. This is evidenced by prescription drug consumption in the United States. According to the CDC, approximately 9 out of every 10 Americans who are at least 60 years old say they have taken at least 1 prescription drug within the last month. Children in the United States are 3 times more likely to be prescribed antidepressants as are children in Europe.
When it comes to pain and prescribing opioids, this desire for a quick fix not only can be counterproductive, it also can be dangerous. Often when individuals experience pain, non-opioid options are safer, more effective, and longer lasting. Incorporating such options as standards of practice should be a central tenet in addressing the opioid crisis. Join us in #ChoosePT.