• The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) has long emphasized that physical therapy is a safe and effective alternative to prescription medication for the treatment of chronic pain.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US Surgeon General agree, recommending physical therapy instead of opioids for the management of most long-term pain.

    Unfortunately, there's a problem: patient access.

    Current policies creates barriers for patients seeking physical therapist treatment. In most cases, it's easier and less expensive for physicians to prescribe opioids and for patients to receive opioids.

    To end America's opioid epidemic, several policies must change.

    APTA recommends that policymakers include the following activities and actions as part of a comprehensive response to the opioid crisis:

    1. The federal government should develop and implement a comprehensive public awareness campaign targeting health care providers, payers, regulators, employers, and the general public on pain assessment and options for pain management.
    2. Public and private health plans should include benefit design, reimbursement models, and integrated team approaches that support early access to nonpharmacological interventions, including physical therapy, for the primary care of pain conditions.
    3. Private and public health plans should remove barriers to effective care by reducing or eliminating patient out-of-pocket costs and by increasing access to and payment for person-centered, nonpharmacological pain management and treatments interventions.
    4. Public and private health plans should educate primary care providers and physicians on the value of nonpharmacological, person-centered interventions and how to appropriately assess, treat and refer patients with pain.
    5. Federal and state policymakers should identify and finance the replication of effective models of pain management care, including reducing or eliminating patient out-of-pocket costs and allowing for bundled payment methods for multidisciplinary programs.
    6. Federal and state student loan repayment programs should incentivize health care professionals, including physical therapists, to work in underserved communities disproportionately affected by the opioid crisis.

    Policy Resources

    Review APTA's Research Brief: Providing a Safe Alternative to Opioids: Research on Pain Management (.pdf)

    Review APTA's Position Paper: Fighting America's Opioid Epidemic: Providing Safe Solutions for Pain (.pdf)

    Review APTA’s White Paper: Beyond Opioids: How Physical Therapy Can Transform Pain Management to Improve Health (.pdf)

  • Last Updated: 12/6/2019
    Contact: advocacy@apta.org