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Physical Therapy Vs. Pain Medication: Choosing the Right Pain Management


You’ve dealt with chronic pain for as long as you can remember and you’re finally ready to improve your quality of life by reducing the pain.

And when it comes to pain management, you have options.

Both physical therapy and opioids could help reduce your pain, but only one will help you get to the source of your pain and improve your lifestyle.

Physical therapy and pain management go hand-in-hand.

This guide will explain the pros and cons of physical therapy vs. pain medication and help you decide which option might be better for you.

Table of Contents

Physical Therapy and Opioids: Which Should You Choose?

If you’ve been dealing with chronic pain or are suffering from pain from a recent injury, you might be weighing your options of pursuing physical therapy or managing your pain with opioids.

Although both options could help relieve your pain, choosing to use physical therapy to get to the root of your pain problem is likely the better option.


Physical therapy can:

  • Help you find the source of your pain rather than just masking it as opioids will do
  • Help with mobility and flexibility
  • Provide long-term relief rather than relief in small doses
  • Help you to stay more active
  • And much more

In Motion rated the number one physical therapy facility in the country. Our team is full of knowledgeable and talented physical therapists who can help you deal with your pain and gain and/or maintain strength and mobility.


Pain Medication Vs. Physical Therapy: The Pros and Cons

A 2019 National Health Interview Survey found that 20.4% of adults in the United States suffered from chronic pain.

Of that 20.4%, 7.4% had “high-impact chronic pain,” which limited them from frequent work or life activities.

To help this group of sufferers, physical therapy can be very beneficial.

However, many choose to reach for opioids to help combat their pain instead.

Do physical therapy and opioids work the same for pain management?

There are pros and cons to both.

Advantages of Taking Opioids

When taken correctly, opioid usage for pain management can be very beneficial.

Although they can be helpful, they are usually not suggested to help relieve chronic pain before trying other methods.

Instead, opioids might be considered after using non-opioid medications like acetaminophen or NSAIDs that have not helped to relieve the pain.

Different types of opioids are used to treat different kinds of chronic pain and provide both short and long-term effects to those with moderate to severe pain.

How do they work?

Opioids attach to proteins in your body (opioid receptors) to help reduce your perception of pain, allowing you not to feel your pain as intensely.

The relief from the pain can help to improve:

  • Sleep
  • Appetite
  • Energy
  • Mood
  • Quality of life

Common opioids used for chronic pain are:

  • Codeine 
  • Oxycodone 
  • Fentanyl
  • Hydrocodone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Morphine
  • Methadone
  • Oxymorphone
  • Pentazocine
  • Buprenorphine

Disadvantages of Taking Opioids

As with any medications, taking opioids has disadvantages and side effects that might steer you away from wanting to try them for pain management.

As many as 80% of people taking opioids experience at least one of the following side effects:

  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Impaired concentration
  • Confusion
  • Sleep problems
  • Memory issues
  • Dry mouth
  • Excessive sweating
  • Weight gain
  • Drowsiness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sex dysfunction
  • Dry skin

Opioid addiction and abuse are also a major concern because of how common they are and how easily they can happen.


Physical Therapy Vs. Pain Medication: The Pros and Cons

If you suffer from chronic pain or are trying to rehab an injury, you’re probably wondering what the difference is between physical therapy vs. pain medication.

Is one better than the other?

Both physical therapy and medicine work differently to help manage pain, and there are benefits and disadvantages to each pain management route.

While medication helps to reduce discomfort and pain temporarily, physical therapy has many more goals, including:

  • Increasing mobility and strength
  • Improving function
  • Rehab post-surgery
  • Reducing pain
  • And more

Advantages of Physical Therapy

Physical therapy aims to find the root of your pain problems and fix them.

Unlike pain medications that simply mask the pain temporarily, physical therapists are trained to provide guided exercise regimens that can help reduce and eliminate many different pain problems.

Other advantages to physical therapy over pain medication include:

  • Possibly avoiding surgery to help eliminate the pain
  • Properly healing from surgery if necessary
  • Managing pain from chronic conditions
  • Managing age-related issues

Disadvantages of Physical Therapy

Although physical therapy can be very beneficial, it does have some disadvantages that might make medication seem like the better option for pain management.

Some disadvantages include:

  • Available physical therapy facilities might lack the necessary equipment
  • Physical therapy treatment can be expensive
  • You might face insurance issues
  • Your body might reluctant to respond to treatment

Physical Therapy Vs. Medicine: Is There a Time and Place for Each?

Because there are clear advantages and disadvantages of both physical therapy and opioids, it can be argued that there is a time and place for both pain management options in a person’s care.

Opioids work by temporarily blocking pain sensations while also releasing chemicals that calm your body and emotions. They might bring your pain level down or block it for a short time, but it inevitably comes back.

Physical therapy is meant to find the source of your pain and ultimately heal the problem.

Depending on your pain problems, both physical therapy and opioids have their place.

Can You Take Pain Medication While Doing Physical Therapy?

You can take pain medication while doing physical therapy, but the ultimate goal of physical therapy is to get you to a place where you no longer need pain medication to function daily.

Physical therapists, like the staff at In Motion O.C., are trained to get to the root of your pain problem to:

  • Improve your mobility, strength, and function
  • Reduce or eliminate your pain
  • Decrease or eliminate pain medication usage
  • Increase your quality of life

Can Physical Therapists Prescribe Pain Meds?

In some facilities you might find that a physical therapist can prescribe pain medications.

However, because the primary goal is to increase your overall health, well-being, and strength while decreasing pain through a physical therapy regimen, most physical therapists shy away from prescribing pain meds even if they are legally able to.

Is Physical Therapy Better Than Medication?

Because there are pros and cons to both opioids and physical therapy, you might find yourself still wondering:

When it comes to physical therapy and pain management, is physical therapy better than medication?

Both physical therapy and opioids work to combat pain, but they do so in very different ways.

You must consider …

  • The cause of your pain
  • Your lifestyle
  • The cost
  • Insurance coverage
  • And more

… before deciding which pain management route is the better option for you.

At In Motion O.C., we believe our highly trained and knowledgeable team of physical therapists will do everything we can to get to the source of your pain and work to increase your quality of life while reducing or eliminating your pain.


Find Out Why the Physical Therapists at In Motion O.C. Have Been Voted #1 in the Country

Are you tired of living in chronic pain?

Maybe you’re newly injured and want to avoid major surgery.

You might be experiencing a loss of mobility and strength from an old injury.

Is surgery or pain medication the answer for your healing?

It doesn’t have to be.

In Motion O.C. is the #1 physical therapist facility in the country. Their talented team is equipped to handle a large variety of patients in need of rehabilitation and pain management. Contact us for a free consultation today.

In Motion O.C.