As I am sure many of you have heard, America has an opioid epidemic. According to the CDC, more than half of opioid overdoses come from prescription painkillers. While many of the people who have passed away from an overdose are drug seekers, or chronic addicts; there are plenty of people just looking for some relief from their legitimate pain and end up abusing their prescription. This is very sad, because there is a better way to treat this pain. When someone takes painkillers, they are treating the symptom (pain). There is an underlying cause of the pain that is left completely unaddressed.
One of the key principles of Physical Therapy is to treat the source of the pain, not treat the symptom. For example, if an athlete comes to my office and tells me his knee hurts when he is running and jumping, I am not only looking at his knee. I am looking for some mechanical problem with his running and jumping to find the cause of the pain. Many times, it is hip weakness and poor form that is the problem causing the increased stress to the knee during these activities. If I were just treating the symptom, I would just put some ice on his knee, and tell him to stay off of it for a few days. This can be good advice at times, but not when he hurts every time he runs. I want to strengthen his hip and educate him on proper running form, so that he can decrease the forces that he will incur at his knee.
This same principle can be applied to other sources of pain, such as chronic back or neck pain. Have you ever been to a practitioner who uses electric stimulation and heat on your back? These modalities, along with your painkillers can certainly help take away the pain temporarily, BUT they do not help solve the cause of the pain. I want to make sure that proper alignment and posture is achieved, so that you can decrease the excessive repetitive stress to your neck and back. Finding the cause of your pain and addressing it can obviously assist with your ability to perform activities throughout the day, but it can also help you with your mood, relationships, and psychological well-being. There is a lot of evidence showing increased anxiety and depression in those with chronic pain. Having a physical therapist assess your movement and function is the best way to ensure that you can return to your normal activities.
Now, I am not advocating for painkillers to never be used; far from it actually. If you are recovering from a surgery, I expect you to be in some pain, and the best thing for you early on is to keep the pain down, letting your body relax and heal. Painkillers can actually be beneficial during your Physical Therapy after your surgery. If you are not in as much pain, your therapist can begin mobilizing your injured body part sooner, and allow you to recover much quicker.
I think one of the biggest causes of this opioid epidemic is society itself. We are in a world where instant gratification, fast fixes, and get rich quick schemes are all over the place. Painkillers are a quick fix, but I encourage you to speak with a PT in your area that has some experience working with folks with chronic pain conditions. Physical Therapy could just be the long-term solution to your chronic pain. Being proactive in your approach to your pain can be good mentally, as well as physically. Your PT can educate you about pain and how it can affect your body and mind as well as instruct you in exercises that can help you return to proper function and quality of life.