The other day I was reading an article in an online news story regarding the opioid crisis here in the US. Obviously this has been the buzz of healthcare news for some time now, but the article featured how physical therapists play an important role in treating those with persistent pain vs. the use of opioids. What struck me as interesting was the use of a specific phrase that described the treatment physical therapists provide for those suffering persistent pain: alternative medicine/treatment.
One must first go back to the definition of alternative medicine to truly respect why this phrase misses the boat on our profession and how we go about addressing pain. The NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health states that when “non-mainstream practice is used in place of conventional medicine, it’s considered “alternative.”
To say that physical therapists provide non-mainstream treatments that are used in place of conventional treatments for pain made me ponder if this was truly accurate. I believe the viewpoint in the recent issue of JOSPT by Mintken and colleagues describes a number of ways PTs can help solve the opioid crisis – it is clear that we ARE the conventional treatment approach for the treatment of pain.
With this being stated, I had to wonder why folks tend to refer to PT as alternative care. Are we truly seen as non-mainstream?
In the Mintken viewpoint, they allude to some points on why this might be. The authors state that a Gallup poll performed found that most of those surveyed who suffered from spine pain would consider a physician, chiropractor or massage therapist before coming to see a PT. We have to be better than this.
It is clear that many in our society view physical therapists as part of the alternative medicine world. This needs to not be the case.
We are the conventional treatment approach for pain conditions and we need to become the mainstream option for addressing functional limitations and movement impairments associated with pain.