In my job as a physical therapist, the impact of the opioid epidemic is impossible to ignore. A large percentage of my patients are dealing with some degree of pain. For some, it is the result of a surgery, for others, a sports injury, and some have been living in chronic pain for over a decade. I understand why patients are prescribed opioids, and I don’t discount them as a valuable tool in treating acute pain. However, I believe it’s important to match the pharmaceutical intervention to the severity of the condition and provide a treatment plan that ultimately works toward little or no pharmacology whenever possible.
A recent study from Penn Medicine examined emergency room visits in the U.S. for ankle sprains — one of the most common injuries in sports for which the acute treatment is rest, ice, compression and elevation. An anti-inflammatory, such as ibuprofen, helps to reduce swelling and usually provides adequate pain relief. The researchers found on average 25 percent of these patients were prescribed an opioid in the ER. This is an example of a mismatch between injury and medical prescription. An ankle sprain will rarely necessitate an opioid prescription, and this study highlighted the over prescribing practices taking place across the nation — in some states more than others.