Putting a band-aid on pain is always a temporary fix. Unless that band-aid becomes an addiction. 

The practice of medicine is continuously evolving as we learn to more appropriately manage health disorders. As a society, we have become increasingly aware of the dangers of narcotics for pain relief and the importance of utilizing alternative treatments whenever possible. 

In the treatment of knee osteoarthritis (OA), numerous studies have found physical therapy to be one of the most effective treatments for long-term pain relief and improving joint mobility. Physical therapy can be more effective than medications, injections, or surgery. 

Increased Use of Medication for Pain Relief

Despite this knowledge, the rate that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and narcotics are being prescribed has doubled or even tripled in recent years. A study reported in Arthritis Care & Research found that many doctors are focused on relieving the pain associated with osteoarthritis instead of providing long-term solutions to improve their patient’s health. Rates that providers are referring to physical therapy fell from 158 per 1,000 visits in 2007-2009 to 86 per 1,000 in 2013-2015. 

As healthcare consumers, it is imperative to know and understand the benefits and risks associated with all of the treatment options presented. For knee OA sufferers, lifestyle changes are often the first step. Obesity is a common cause for knee and hip OA, therefore, one of the first recommendations a provider should make is a weight loss program when applicable. Safe strengthening is equally important. Many sports medicine experts agree that physical therapy should be the first step when addressing knee OA. Physical therapists can help with a long term plan, addressing each person’s individual needs.

There’s a time and place for medication. NSAIDs can be a good short-term option for relieving pain and inflammation. Long-term use, however, is not recommended as the risks far outweigh the benefits. We recommend against any opioid use except in extreme cases, and only for occasional use. 

If you or someone you know has knee osteoarthritis, schedule an evaluation with a lower extremity physical therapist. The state of Oregon provides direct access to licensed physical therapists without a prescription or referral. However, some insurances do require a prescription for ongoing treatment. Call one of our five Central Oregon locations to learn more about the requirements of your insurance carrier.