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In light of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s (CDC) March 15 release of new guidelines questioning the safety and effectiveness of subscription opioid use for the treatment of chronic pain, local physical therapist Jim Herkimer points out that physical therapy has long been considered a safer, cheaper and more effective treatment for such conditions.

In fact, the CDC report itself lists physical therapy and exercise as options for managing chronic pain that “may actually work better” than oft-abused opiate painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin – and with fewer risks and side effects. 

“Expand on original thought, perhaps tapping into personal experience and trends you’ve seen in the clinic while praising the CDC study as overdue. Suggest something to the effect that movement and exercise is, indeed, a wonder drug in and of itself.”

An often debilitating condition that can lead to fatigue, depression and anxiety, chronic pain is defined as persistent pain that continues for months – even years. 

The country’s top federal health agency, the CDC established its new guidelines based on research and trends that suggest the risk of opiate drugs far outweigh the benefits in most people. Such drugs are addicting and often overused and abused, stated the CDC, contributing to the death of nearly 20,000 Americans in 2014 alone. 

“We know of no other medication routinely used for a nonfatal condition that kills patients so frequently,” said CDC Director Thomas Friedman in a recent USA Today article. “We hope to see fewer deaths from opiates. That’s the bottom line.” 

In contrast, several studies over the years points to movement, exercise and individualized physical therapy as effective options for treating chronic pain. A report about chronic pain released by the National Institutes of Health in January of 2015, in fact, specifically mentions physical therapy as a key, non-pharmaceutical option for treating, managing and even ending chronic pain. 

“Despite what is commonly done in current clinical practice, there appear to be few data to support the long-term use of opioids for chronic pain management,” states the report titled “The Role of Opioids in the Treatment of Chronic Pain.” 

“In this quote, use your own words to spin a more hopeful tone about chronic pain and how safe and effective it is to treat through physical therapy,” said Herkimer. “Then make a distinction about the effects of what you do – the positive side effects and results – compared with the very different path prescription drugs take one down.” 

From education, strength and flexibility exercises and manual therapy, to posture awareness and body mechanics instruction, physical therapists are licensed and trained to identify the causes of chronic pain, then establish an individualized treatment plan for alleviating and possibly eliminating the pain.