Lehigh Valley, Pa.,
15:45 PM

LVHN Doctor of Physical Therapy Sees Rehab as an Effective Solution to Current U.S. Opioid Epidemic

LVHN’s Karen Snowden, DPT, highlights pain management alternatives

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 91 Americans died each day in 2015 of drug overdoses involving an opioid, continuing a 15-year upward trend in fatalities related to pain-management drugs.[1]

As solutions continue to evolve nationwide, Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) physical therapist, Karen Snowden, DPT, suggests a dual response:

  • A team approach that evaluates pain management strategies across all health care providers involved with a patient
  • The use of information to enable patients to understand their pain, thereby lessening the reliance on pharmaceuticals.

Snowden has more than 30 years’ experience in physical therapy, 11 of them with Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN). She treats pelvic conditions that patients often characterize as agonizing, including painful intercourse, coccyx (tailbone) pain, fibromyalgia and high-risk pregnancy.

Team Approach

Snowden says that coordinating care in a team approach, across all health care providers a patient is seeing, can mitigate the effects of depression, anxiety and stress – all factors that contribute to opioid addiction. By collaborating, these providers can address the suffering in aggregate, lessening the reliance on pharmaceuticals.

“Treating the whole person with a multidisciplinary approach helps reduce a patient’s pain,” Snowden says. “For example, pain messages are often part of the body’s protection mechanism. So incorporating stress-reducing strategies can be helpful in reducing some sources of pain.”

“After all,” she says, “the central focus needs to be treating the whole patient.”


“Research supports the value of educating patients in understanding the causes of their pain and

ways to reduce it,” Snowden says. “Knowledge helps reduce pain.”

“For example, we used to believe that pain originates in tissue. Now, we know that pain exists only when the brain determines it. A bump on the elbow or a stubbed toe can be experienced as different levels of pain, depending on how that sensory information is processed by the brain. Redirect how that information is being processed cognitively, and it’s possible to change the perception of pain from excruciating to manageable. Once that happens, we can speed recovery, for instance, by lessening post-op reliance on prescription pain medication.”

Snowden advises all patients discuss this topic with their physicians.

“No one should put his or her health at risk to be pain free,” she says. “Patients should ask their doctors about alternative ways to safely treat pain. This discussion should include whether rehab, such as physical therapy or occupational therapy, might be a helpful option for recovery.”

“There are several non-pharmacological options that help a variety of pain conditions. Patients need evidence-based information to make informed decisions about their health care,” Snowden says.

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html