How Physical Therapy is Helping to Fight the Opioid Crisis

How Physical Therapy is Helping to Fight the Opioid Crisis

By Brian Rog for ATI Physical Therapy

For decades, long-term chronic pain management was widely believed to be controlled through opioids, such as Hydrocodone, Methadone and Oxycodone; however, new research suggests that opioids may only serve to merely mask or block the perception of pain. With more than 30 percent of Americans suffering from acute or chronic pain, the CDC has seen a major spike in opioid overuse and addiction cases, which should come to no surprise given the disabling effects of chronic pain.

In 2016 alone, opioids contributed to about 17,000 deaths, and recently, authorities are estimating that deaths in the related overdose epidemic are likely to increase by more than 70 percent. Opioid abuse was also just recently classified as an epidemic by the federal government. While many experts question the lack of long-term favorable results among most opioid users, the physical therapy industry is stepping up to be that beacon of hope for those in need. With a proven history in combatting aches, pains and discomfort, physical therapy is becoming a viable, non-medicated solution for those in search of remedying this physical and mental agony.

How can physical therapy fight pain?

Physical therapy is playing a leading role in tackling the opioid epidemic by restoring wellness and mobility in the lives of those suffering from the effects of opioid overuse. Unlike opioids, physical therapy doesn’t mask pain. In its full capacity, physical therapy may contribute to major reductions in pain and significant gains in physical independence through the use of effective, individualized treatments. Clinicians work with patients to develop calculated and adapted programs that progress patients from rest to unrestricted, and in many instances, pain-free activity.

ATI Physical Therapy, in particular, employs research-driven treatment methods derived from its in-house research and data teams, which has shown to improve rehabilitation outcomes. As a result, these methods have effectively helped millions of patients get back to significantly reduced and/or pain-free living.

A recent study by ATI Physical Therapy, My Health First Network, BCBS and Greenville Health System (GHS) found that 70 percent of patients that utilized physical therapy first for spine, shoulder and knee pain were successfully treated without the use of imaging, prescription medicine or additional physician visits. Access to physical therapy is a cost-effective way to address many common aches and pains that affect much of the population. In many cases, a doctor’s referral is not required, though it’s recommended to consult with your insurance carrier to determine if a referral is necessary as well as a primary physician to see if physical therapy is an option for you.

How opioids cause addiction

 Opioid overuse cases lie in the tolerance trajectory, which in the short-term proves to be effective in small doses. Over time, small doses become unsuccessful in providing therapeutic effect, causing users to increase intake (and in some cases, potency), which evolves into a vicious dependency that becomes growingly difficult to vacate. While short-term opioid use may help post-surgery conditions, long-term use can prove to be fatal. It’s estimated that one in every four opioid users fall victim to the dangers of abuse and more than 1,000 people are treated daily in ERs for prescription opioid misuse.

“In my practice, the first concern is to understand what is causing the patient’s pain and then look to treat the cause rather than the symptom,” said Dr. Wajde Dabah, medical director of Pain Therapy Associates. “Physical therapy is an under-utilized option that should be considered as a first line treatment for pain. It offers an opioid-free, long-term solution for approaching the primary cause of the pain. Physical therapy is one of the fundamental pillars I use to address pain and should be part of every comprehensive treatment plan.”

Hear the interview with Dr. Wajde Dabah on SportsMedicineWeekly Episode 17.23

Given the severity of this opioid overuse surge, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging health care providers to reduce the use of opioids in favor of safe, non-medicated alternatives such as physical therapy.

Let’s make a goal and tackle it together

If you are struggling with managing your chronic pain, ATI Physical Therapy can help! To schedule a complimentary screening, make an appointment, or ask your doctor about ATI for your therapy needs, visit atipt.com or call (855) MY-ATIPT (855-692-8478).

Pre & Post Workout Supplements; Chicago Sports Summit; Replacing Opiods with Physical Therapy

Episode 17.23 with Hosts Steve Kashul and Dr. Brian Cole. Broadcasting on ESPN Chicago 1000 WMVP-AM Radio, Saturdays from 8:30 to 9:00 AM/c.

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Segment One (01:31): Personal Trainer & Sports Nutritionist, Alex Carneirofrom Optimum Nutrition helps us understand how to sort out all the information available on supplements to select the best for our training program; the role of protein supplements, caffeine, branched-chain amino acid and resveritrol for building muscle, fueling our workout and recovery.

As an international leading fitness authority, Alexandre Carneiro has spent the last decade educating others on the meaning of fitness, health, and connecting those two things with a healthy mind. With a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and nutrition, along with positive, motivating philosophies, Carneiro has helped people all over the world achieve their fitness goals. From celebrities to military personal and everyday people, Alexandre has worked and helps expand his philosophy that fitness only needs one thing; a changing mindset.


Segment Two (13:33): Dr. Cole announces the 2nd Annual Chicago Sports Summit, a half-day event featuring some of Chicago’s heaviest hitters. Participants will speak about how sports and after school activities empower youth to engage in positive behavior to help reduce Chicago’s violence.

Executives will also discuss how they use sports marketing and celebrities to grow their business. Attendees will learn about new developments in sports science and how these advances impact an athlete’s endurance, performance and injury prevention.

October 4th, 2017 - 8AM to Noon Hyatt Regency Hotel, 151 East Upper Wacker Drive, Chicago ILCLICK HERE TO REGISTER


Segment Three (20:08): Dr. Wajde  Dabah from Pain Therapy Associates and Dr. Brian Cole discuss the use of physical therapy, as provided by ATI Physical Therapy, for an alternative to Opiods in managing pain.

Related Article

Wajde Dabah, MD, is a board-certified anesthesiologist and pain medicine specialist. He has special expertise in spinal cord stimulation as well as treatment of complex regional pain syndrome, musculoskeletal pain and peripheral neuropathy.

Dr. Dabah believes that chronic pain is a disease no different than hypertension or diabetes and that with time, commitment and partnership with his patients, they will take back control of their lives and overcome their chronic pain.

Dr. Dabah is also the medical director for transcranial magnetic stimulation, innovative technology for the treatment of depression.

AHAI: A Step aHead Baseline Testing

A Step aHead baseline testing is now open

AHAI: A Step aHead Baseline Testing

Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois (AHAI), Athletico Physical Therapy, the Chicago Blackhawks, and NorthShore University HealthSystem has come together to create the AHAI: A Step aHead Baseline Testing initiative to combat one of the most common head injuries: concussions.

These four groups pledge to educate the Illinois youth hockey community on the importance of concussion management and to be proactive with implementing baseline testing. Through A Step aHead, we offer free baseline concussion testing, as well as educational programs, to youth hockey players in the AHAI program.

Head Injury and Concussion Management
presented by:

AHAI Baseline Testing

For more information contact an Athletico Baseline Testing Professional by emailing baselinetesting@athletico.com.

Click here to register for an AHAI Baseline Test

Tracking Patient Outcomes; Tips for the Aging Athlete; Active Father finds Healing after Tissue Transplant

Episode 17.21 with Hosts Steve Kashul and Dr. Brian Cole. Broadcasting on ESPN Chicago 1000 WMVP-AM Radio, Saturdays from 8:30 to 9:00 AM/c.

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Segment One (01:20): Dr. Nikhil Verma from Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush discusses the importance of tracking patient outcomes: value based care; measuring quality ofnikhil verma care vs cost; which techniques work best based on patient outcomes; how the outcomes meet specific conditions and expectations.

Dr. Verma is a Professor and Director, Division of Sports Medicine, Fellowship Director, Sports Medicine, Department of Orthopedics, Rush University Medical Center, Team Physician, Chicago White Sox/Chicago Bulls.

Dr. Verma specializes in treatment of the shoulder, elbow and knee with an emphasis on advanced arthroscopic reconstructive techniques of the shoulder, shoulder replacement, knee ligament reconstruction and articular cartilage reconstruction and meniscal transplantation.

Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush is widely recognized as the regional leader in comprehensive orthopedic services. 

View all Specialties


Segment Two (11:23): Dr. Leython Williams from Athletico Physical Threrapy discusses the benefits of accepting and adjusting to the inevitability of aging. Aging gracefully is linked to healthy diet, regular exercise and good genes.

Athletes both professional and amateur often refuse to let age slow them down. However, even the most elite athletes are not immune to aging; rebuilding bone and gaining muscle; trading intensity for duration; cooling down for gradual decrease in intensity.

Dr. Williams is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and facility manager for Athletico Physical Therapy at their Lincolnshire facility. He is a former Division 1 athlete that infuses his experience as an elite athlete into his evidence-based practice in the outpatient orthopedic setting.

Dr. Williams is an expert in musculoskeletal function and rehabilitation as he seeks to restore functionality and decrease pain. His mission aligns with Athletico is providing progressive outpatient therapy through personalized care that emphasizes patient education and injury prevention.

Schedule a Complimentary Injury Screen


Segment Three (21:07): Cartilage transplant Phil Pizzano is an active husband, father and former Division I soccer player discusses his tissue transplant with Steve and Dr. Cole.

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In 2012, he began to suffer from debilitating knee pain. After enduring years of pain and surgery, he met with a doctor who told him he was a candidate for an osteochondral allograft transplant. In the two and a half years since that surgery, he’s been able to keep up with his two children and even picked up CrossFit.

Learn More at Allograft Possibilities