THE POSITIVES OF PHYSICAL THERAPY
How Seeing a Physical Therapist Can Reduce Pain and Protect from Opioid Use
October is National Physical Therapy Month. As president of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), it gives me great pride to represent our profession and our 100,000-member physical therapists (PTs), physical therapist assistants (PTAs) and students.
Often people hear “physical therapy” and mistakenly identify it as a generic term used to describe a type of treatment. In fact, physical therapy is a profession, practiced by licensed physical therapists who are currently – and for 10 years in Louisiana – educated at the doctoral level. It’s a profession that has been transforming lives for 100 years.
The very first PTs were commissioned in late 1918 by the Surgeon General of the U.S. Army to rehabilitate our wounded World War I soldiers, returning them to battle or to a better quality of civilian life. Thus, our profession was founded and built upon our ability to compassionately manage pain and suffering, while empowering our patients to restore function, quality of life and human dignity after injury, illness or disease.
Throughout our history, we’ve been perfecting the science and efficacy of our nonpharmacologic, conservative management of pain. Today, we are very good at what we do, and what we do – optimizing quality of life through prescribed exercise, hands-on care and patient education – has a profound effect on individuals, families, communities, and even our nation at large.
In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention responded to our country’s opioid crisis with guidelines that recommend safer alternatives like physical therapy to manage pain. The opioid epidemic is a complex problem without a simple solution, but, as we have throughout our proud history, the physical therapy profession and APTA have stepped forward to assist a society in need. Our #ChoosePT public awareness campaign has reached millions of Americans through television, radio and digital media to educate the public about the benefits of physical therapy.
Since low back pain is one of the most common and expensive chronic pain conditions affecting Americans, APTA recently partnered with Boston University, United Healthcare and OptumLabs to study how early access to physical therapy can reduce opioid use. The study will be published by the end of this year, and the results are so compelling – an 85 percent decrease in opioid use – that the largest private insurance company in the nation is looking to change its benefit design so that physical therapy becomes the first treatment option for people with low back pain.
Fortunately for the citizens of Louisiana, the public can already go directly to a physical therapist without a referral from another health provider, thanks to a state law passed in 2016. We are grateful to our North Louisiana delegation for their bipartisan support of this much-needed policy change that makes quality health care more convenient, safe and affordable for their constituents. APTA’s official consumer information website, MoveForwardPT. com, includes a Find a PT tool so you can identify a physical therapist near you. And you don’t need to wait until you’re in pain to benefit from the care of a physical therapist. Physical therapists are movement experts who help people of all ages and abilities stay active and independent. We tailor our treatment to your needs, your goals and your lifestyle, and you get to be an active participant in your care. When it comes to your health, you have a choice. I urge you to choose more movement and better health. Choose physical therapy.
Sharon L. Dunn, PT, Ph.D., is a board-certified orthopaedic physical therapist. She is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences at the LSU Health Shreveport School of Allied Health Professions. Dr. Dunn is also the president of the American Physical Therapy Association. The Rehabilitation Faculty Clinic at the LSU School of Allied Health Professions can be reached at 318-813-2970.