News / Calgary

‘Alternative’ chronic pain services urgently needed in Alberta

Dr. Trevor Theman, registrar at the CPSA, said access to non-pharmaceutical options such as physiotherapy or chiropractic services should be expanded

Registered physiotherapist Debbie Patterson says many of her patients benefit from treatment and even get off their opioid medication in some cases.

CP FILE

Registered physiotherapist Debbie Patterson says many of her patients benefit from treatment and even get off their opioid medication in some cases.

‘Alternative’ chronic pain and addiction services are urgently needed in Alberta if the province wants to prevent a new generation from getting addicted to prescription opioids, according to the registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta.

Dr. Trevor Theman said a major challenge is the limited number of chronic pain specialists and treatment facilities available for sufferers, which forces patients and physicians to default to opioid prescriptions. 

“If some other services were publicly funded, that wouldn’t be a barrier to patients looking for non-opioid treatments,” Theman said.

He said access to non-pharmaceutical options such as physiotherapy, chiropractic, or even psychology services should be expanded.

“It’s easy to say ‘use fewer opioids’ and ‘reduce your prescribing’, but if patients are struggling and can’t afford these other services or they’re not readily available – it limits our options.”

Debbie Patterson, a registered physiotherapist who has specialized in persistent pain for the past three decades, said many of her patients are on prescription pain-medication when they first meet.

“I’ll also tell you a significant number of them are able to decrease their dose or wean off their medication as I’m working with them – although not all of them,” Patterson said.

“Can they get rid of the pain 100 per cent? Some people can, and some people cannot, but I haven’t had a patient who has not changed even somewhat and who isn’t happy with the changes they’ve had,” Patterson said.

She said physiotherapists are uniquely equipped to assess and find a way to treat persistent pain in the brain rather than solely addressing the physical tissues in agony.

“If we provide the same kind of treatment to someone with an acute back sprain as someone with chronic low back pain, they’re going to get short-term relief at best – that’s not an effective use of our health care dollars,” Patterson said.

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