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A physical therapist performing hands-on therapy on a patient to treat back pain.

Physical therapy is among the safe and effective alternatives to opioids recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the management of most non-cancer related pain.

Whereas opioids only mask the sensation of pain, physical therapists treat pain through hands-on care, patient education, and prescribed movement.

Here's how physical therapists manage pain:

1. Exercise

A study following 20,000 people over 11 years found that those who exercised on a regular basis, experienced less pain. And among those who exercised more than three times per week, chronic widespread pain was 28% less common. Physical therapists can prescribe exercise specific to your goals and needs.

2. Manual (Hands-on) Therapy

Research supports a hands-on approach to treating pain. From carpal tunnel syndrome to low back pain, this type of care can effectively reduce your pain and improve your movement. Physical therapists may use manipulation, joint and soft tissue mobilizations, and dry needling, as well as other strategies in your care.

3. Education

A large study conducted with military personnel demonstrated that those with back pain who received a 45-minute educational session about pain, were less likely to seek treatment than their peers who didn't receive education about pain. Physical therapists will talk with you to make sure they understand your pain history, and help set realistic expectations about your treatment.

4. Teamwork

Recent studies have shown that developing a positive relationship with your physical therapist and being an active participant in your own recovery can impact your success. This is likely because physical therapists are able to directly work with you and assess how your pain responds to treatment.

Read more about Pain and Chronic Pain.

The American Physical Therapy Association launched a national campaign to raise awareness about the risks of opioids and the safe alternative of physical therapy for long-term pain management. Learn more at our Safe Pain Management page.

Physical therapists are movement experts. They improve quality of life through hands-on care, patient education, and prescribed movement. You can contact a physical therapist directly for an evaluation. To find a physical therapist in your area, visit Find a PT.

Find a PT Near You!

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Holth HS, Werpen HK, Zwart JA, Hagen K. Physical inactivity is associated with chronic musculoskeletal complaints 11 years later: results from the Nord-Trøndelag Health Study. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2008;9:159. Free Article.

Fernández-de-las Peñas C, Ortega-Santiago R, de la Llave-Rincón AI, et al. Manual physical therapy versus surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome: a randomized parallel-group trial. J Pain. 2015;16(11):1087–1094. Article Summary in PubMed.

Delitto A, George SZ, Dillen LV, et al. Low back pain. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2012;42(4):A1–A57. Free Article.

George SZ, Childs JD, Teyhen DS, et al. Brief psychosocial education, not core stabilization, reduced incidence of low back pain: results from the Prevention of Low Back Pain in the Military cluster randomized trial. BMC Med. 2011;9:128. Free Article.

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