Rehab, such as physical therapy, performed within 1 to 15 days from the onset of nontraumatic knee pain may reduce the use of opioids, nonsurgical invasive procedures, and surgery, according to a recent study.

The study, performed by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, was published in Physical Therapy, the scientific journal from the American Physical Therapy Association.

In the study, the research team investigated the records from a sample of 52,504 Medicare beneficiaries with nontraumatic knee pain for 12 months.

Of the 8,672 patients who received rehabilitation for nontraumatic knee pain, more than a third were limited to postsurgical care only. For the remaining 5,852 patients, most (52%) were exposed to early rehabilitation (provided within 1-15 days).

Rehabilitation included exercise and other nonpharmacologic services or procedures such as nutritional counseling, functional training, physical agents, manipulation, and manual therapy regardless of type of provider or setting, explains a media release from the APTA.

Researchers note in the study that although it is recommended that patients be prescribed therapeutic exercise as a first-line treatment for nontraumatic knee pain, only 11% of the total number of beneficiaries received this treatment.

“We were surprised to find a low percentage of patients received outpatient rehabilitation for their knee pain,” states lead author Joel M. Stevans, DC, PhD, regarding this finding. “Our research further emphasizes the importance of working with colleagues from other disciplines to better understand how patients can be directed.”

In addition, the team suggests in the study that increased and more immediate use of rehabilitation services, could decrease the use of opioids or more invasive procedures.

“We believe this will help reduce utilization of health care services that are more invasive or may place patients at greater risk,” shares study coauthor G. Kelley Fitzgerald, PT, PhD.

These rehabilitative services that are suggested to be done early include physical therapy.

“Physical therapists help patients reduce or eliminate pain through movement and exercise,” says APTA President Sharon Dunn, PT, PhD, Board-Certified Orthopaedic Clinical Specialist, in the release. “This study adds to a growing body of evidence supporting nonpharmacological treatment options like physical therapy for chronic pain conditions.”

[Source: American Physical Therapy Association]