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Can Physiotherapy Be An Alternative To Pain Medication?

Updated: December 6, 2022

Clients often complain of neck and low back pain, as well as other musculoskeletal disorders — like carpal tunnel syndrome and osteoarthritis — which can involve the muscles, ligaments, nerves, or tendons of the body.

Many of them don’t think twice when reaching for pain medication, but these pills are not a cure-all. Although pain-relieving pharmaceutical treatments provide some short-term relief, they don’t address the underlying causes of pain, and many come with health risks.

What are the medications currently available for pain relief or chronic pain?

There are three main categories of pain medications:

  • Painkillers
  • Anti-inflammatories
  • Muscle relaxants


Over-the-counter drugs like acetaminophen (Tylenol) are common in many households for treating a variety of issues, from headaches to backaches. However, your doctor may also prescribe something a bit stronger like Tylenol, 3 or if your pain is quite severe or chronic, s/he may prescribe Percocet to help manage pain. All of these medications interfere with how the brain perceives pain.


Decreasing inflammation can provide relief from pain. Some common over-the-counter medications that decrease inflammation are naproxen (Aleve), ibuprofen (Advil), aspirin (Bayer), and topical creams like Voltaren. These are non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), but doctors can also prescribe steroidal anti-inflammatories like prednisone, which are very strong and have many side effects. These types of steroidal anti-inflammatories are not used regularly for injuries.

Muscle Relaxants

Muscle relaxants stop painful muscle spasms by suppressing the central nervous system. Some over-the-counter medication contains methocarbamol (Robaxin), which provides relief from muscle spasms and tension. Many of these can be taken along with a painkiller or anti-inflammatory, but it’s important to check the labels on any medication you take. Your doctor may also prescribe a stronger muscle relaxant, such as cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril), depending on your pain or injury.

Important Note: It is extremely important to check with your Physician or Pharmacist before taking any medication — even if a prescription is not required!

What are the limitations of medication for pain relief and treating chronic pain?

All of these drugs can bring some relief from pain, but all come with fairly uncommon, but potential, health risks — even the popular brands in your medicine cabinet. Short-term side effects like nausea, diarrhea, or dizziness can seem minor, but long-term side effects can include serious health issues.

Chronic Ibuprofen use, for instance, can lead to high blood pressure and fluid retention, while acetaminophen can cause liver damage. Additionally, some prescribed medications can lead to drug dependency or addiction (especially opioids like OxyContin, Percocet, and Vicodin). Often with long-term painkiller use, the effectiveness wears off over time and the dosage needs to be increased to provide the same pain relief.

Perhaps most importantly, pain medications don’t address the underlying causes of pain. It’s important for clients to seek treatments that consider their long-term health. Painkillers, NSAIDs, and muscle relaxants can play an important role in aiding your recovery, but medications should not be solely relied on for your recovery.

Your medications can be important to your pain management and well-being, but physiotherapy can help you deal with chronic pain so you don’t have to rely only on medication.

Book an appointment with one of our physiotherapists today!

How can physiotherapy be an alternative to pain medication?

Physiotherapists use exercises, stretches, and a variety of hands-on techniques to address the musculoskeletal problems that contribute to pain in our bodies. Consider a client with back pain, for example. After a thorough assessment, a physiotherapist might identify poor posture and muscle strain as contributing factors.

To deal with these problems, your physiotherapist might create a customized treatment plan focused on strengthening and stretching certain muscles, manual techniques to reduce soft tissue tension and changing how a client coordinates their muscles during movement.

By helping a client move better, the physiotherapist can reduce or eliminate a client’s pain in both the short and long term. As a result, clients become less dependent on pain medications and reduce their risks of potential health problems down the road.

Book an appointment with one of our physiotherapists today!

How can physiotherapy be an alternative medication for chronic pain?

A variety of treatment options are available if you’re suffering from chronic pain. Your physiotherapist will find the best course of treatment for dealing with your pain, such as:

What type of alternative treatment program should someone follow to ensure success?

The specific treatment program will depend on the condition being treated — and the person! Each treatment program is specific to the individual. Our physiotherapists will provide a custom treatment plan after a thorough consultation to get to the bottom of what’s causing your pain.

Continuity of treatment and adherence to the combined exercise program is very important!

Ready to try pain management without medication?

If you find yourself turning to medication regularly to help you manage pain, book an appointment to chat with one of our physiotherapists. New clients are always welcome without a doctor’s referral.