Physical Therapy vs. Opioid: Which Painkiller is Better?

men walking up the stairs

Both opioid and physical therapy play an important role in pain management. The former is a prescribed painkiller people take for acute pain. Meanwhile, the latter is the better choice for long-term pain that results from an injury. 

However, looking at both painkillers’ history, there’s a much deeper reason why people choose them for pain management. Keep reading below to find out why that’s the case.

The History of Opioid for Pain Management

Generally, opioid is a safe-to-use drug for acute pain. The effects include a euphoric, addictive impact on people. However, for those who have been using them long-term to treat various ailments, they may become addicting in the long run.

Although the media points out the younger generation as excessive users of opioids, the older generation past fifty years old are more drawn to use the drug. Between 2002 and 2014, the adult users of opioids doubled, as stated by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

There are two reasons why the older generation gravitates more towards the drug than the younger generation: less efficient metabolization and the manifestation of chronic pains. First, as the liver metabolizes an opioid, older people using the drug for their medication may struggle more to absorb its benefits. Since their liver may be weaker and less efficient than its purpose, the drug lingers longer and provides an extended feeling of euphoria. 

Meanwhile, older people also experience more chronic pain. For example, they tend to go through physical pain in their bodies, possibly brought by rheumatism and other health issues they may develop. Therefore, using a more potent painkiller, such as an opioid, is a better option than over-the-counter pain medication.

Despite providing immediate relief, there must be a limit to opioid doses to how much the patient’s doctor recommends. Although it depends on every patient, the prescription should be the correct dose and not exceed the doctor’s orders.

The History of Physical Therapy for Pain Management

Physical therapy does not only offer immediate pain relief to patients. It also treats the pain directly from its source—providing a longer-lasting effect. 

Physical therapists would often look at pain and where it comes from, slowly adjusting the area where they might feel weakness or stiffness. Most of the time, the parts influencing the pain a patient feels can be treated by specific exercises that bring back mobility.

For example, simple low-impact aerobic training may increase a patient’s heart rate, resulting in better lubrication in the joints. People who can do brisk walking or a simple jog should stay active before doing any strengthening exercises. 

Meanwhile, strengthening exercises target the core, glutes, and back muscles. By using the patient’s weight, physical therapists can train people in making specific parts of the body stronger to avoid any pain inflicted on them. 

On the other hand, a simple stretching exercise is a gentle yet effective home remedy for people who opt to stay at home without visiting a physical therapist frequently.


Both physical therapy and the use of opioids are effective ways to reduce physical pain in people. While the former attacks the source of the pain, the latter provides immediate relief for acute pains.

The best method depends on the patient’s situation. Going to a physical therapist might be a better option for people who can still move around and do some exercises. It might not bring instant relief, but it sure does provide a longer-lasting solution for body pains.

As for those who can’t do strenuous physical activities, taking opioids is a better option. Of course, it would be best for patients to consult their doctors on which routes to take. Choosing the proper pain management solution does take many considerations before putting them into practice.

Bridge Home Health & Hospice provides quality home health and hospice care in California for people needing extra assistance in their later years of life. We have developed state-of-the-art programs to ensure the highest quality of care in our patients. If you’re looking for a hospice near you, reach out to us on our website, and let’s discuss how we can help.