As we discussed in our first post, physical therapy is the best option available for the vast majority of hip pain cases because it empowers patients to regain their lost abilities with their own targeted movements. There’s also large and growing body of evidence that supports physical therapy as a safe and effective intervention for a range of hip conditions, and to give you a better sense of what this research has shown, we describe a recently published study below.
Hip osteoarthritis is one of the most common types of osteoarthritis and an extremely prevalent cause of hip pain. Although exercise therapy, education, and in some cases weight loss are recommended as the best tools to address hip osteoarthritis, only about one in three patients are offered these treatments. Instead, pain medications like acetaminophen, non–steroidal anti–inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and even opioids are frequently used to manage hip pain in these patients, even though these medications lead to similar outcomes as exercise therapy and are associated with several risks—particularly opioids.
Therefore, a study was conducted to determine if an exercise program had an impact on the use of pain medications in patients with knee and hip osteoarthritis. To be eligible for the study, patients with knee and/or hip osteoarthritis were evaluated against a set of inclusion criteria, and this process led to 16,499 patients being included. All these patients participated in an intervention that consisted of 2–3 sessions of patient education and 12 sessions of supervised exercise therapy over six weeks. The education sessions were led by a physical therapist and provided patients with knowledge about osteoarthritis and treatments for it, particularly self–help and exercise. The exercise therapy sessions focused on neuromuscular control and lasted one hour each, becoming gradually more challenging as the program progressed. Patients were also encouraged to become more physically active and exercise more frequently, and the physical therapist discussed individual strategies with each patient at the final session.
Results showed that there was a significant reduction in the use of all pain medications after these patients completed the intervention. The number of patients using acetaminophen, NSAIDs, or opioids reduced from 62% before the intervention to 44% afterwards, which corresponded to a relative reduction of 29%. Among the patients who were using pain medications at the start of the study, most (52%) either changed to a lower risk medication or discontinued medications altogether, while about 46% continued using the same medication. It was also found that overall pain scores improved after completing the intervention, and greater improvements were associated with a greater reduction in the use of pain medications.
These findings show that an exercise therapy program can substantially reduce the proportion of patients with knee or hip osteoarthritis who use pain medications, as they often switch to lower–risk options. Exercise therapy is considered an extremely effective and safe intervention with minimal to no risk for adverse events, whereas pain medications are associated with various side effects and—in the case of opioids—a high risk for abuse, addiction, and overdose–related death.
Therefore, if you are currently affected by hip osteoarthritis or any other cause of hip pain that’s complicating your daily life, we strongly advise you to see a physical therapist promptly for an individualized treatment program that will empower you to regain your function through a targeted exercise program.