Bridging the Knowledge Gap

How Delaying Physical Therapy Contributes to Increased Opioid Risk

We've discussed how early access to Physical Therapy can affect many different aspects of your care; including total out of pocket cost of care, insurance costs, number of both invasive and non-invasive studies performed, and likelihood of surgical intervention. Another important correlation has been identified in a 2023 article found here in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Investigators looked at the relationship between the timing of PT initiation and the risk of future opioid use.

According to the CDC, drug overdose deaths have increased 5 fold over the past 20 years, and 75% of those deaths in the year 2020 were attributed to opioid overdoses. While this data shows an alarming rise in overdose deaths from opioids, it is well known that the US has been fighting an opioid crisis for years. Although the CDC recommends only 3-7 days of opioid use to treat acute pain, it is not uncommon for patients to report months, if not years, of opioid use. The negative effects of long term opioid use and abuse are countless, and it is in our best interest to try to educate ourselves and our patients on how to safely use, or when appropriate, avoid, these powerful medications.

In the study cited above, researches examined 67,245 individuals with knee osteoarthritis (OA). They looked at the relationship between timing of PT initiation and opioid use, both acute and chronic use (over 1 year). Compared to starting PT within the first month, a delay in PT initiation was associated with higher risk of opioid use, whether patients were naive to opioids or had experience with opioids in the past. Furthermore, the longer the delay in PT initiation, the greater the risk of both acute and chronic opioid use.

With many patients reporting difficulty getting fast appointments to see a quality Physical Therapist these days, our mobile physical therapists come directly to you, and are often available within 1-2 days for an initial evaluation. If you're dealing with pain or thinking of how opioids may play a role in your care, head over to our Physical Therapists page and book a phone consult with one of our experts to learn how PT can help.