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

About LVHN

Lehigh Valley Health Network includes eight hospital campuses - three in Allentown including the region's only facility dedicated to orthopedic surgery, one in Bethlehem, one in East Stroudsburg, one in Hazleton and two in Pottsville, Pa.; 26 health centers caring for communities in seven counties; numerous primary and specialty care physician practices and 18 ExpressCARE locations throughout the region including the area’s only Children’s ExpressCARE at the Health Center at Palmer Township; pharmacy, imaging, home health services and lab services; extensive inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation services; and preferred provider services through Valley Preferred. Specialty care includes: trauma care at the region’s busiest, most-experienced trauma center treating adults and children, burn care at the regional Burn Center, kidney and pancreas transplants; perinatal/neonatal, cardiac, cancer care, orthopedics, and neurology and complex neurosurgery capabilities including national certification as a Comprehensive Stroke Center. The Lehigh Valley Cancer Institute, the Lehigh Valley Heart Institute and the Lehigh Valley Institute for Special Surgery give clinicians of the highest caliber the necessary infrastructure, programs and partnerships to help community members stay healthy and provide the most advanced treatment when needed. The Lehigh Valley Cancer Institute is a formal member of the Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) Cancer Alliance, a transformative initiative to improve the quality of care and outcomes for people with cancer in community health care settings, including access to key MSK clinical trials. Robotic surgery is offered in ten specialties across the health network with more than 10,000 procedures performed since 2007. Lehigh Valley Children’s Hospital, the only children’s hospital and Level 4 NICU in the region, provides care in more than 30 specialties and general pediatrics. Lehigh Valley Hospital–Cedar Crest has been recognized among the top five hospitals in Pennsylvania by U.S. News & World Report for for five consecutive years. Lehigh Valley Hospital–Cedar Crest, Lehigh Valley Hospital–17th Street and Lehigh Valley Hospital–Muhlenberg are national Magnet hospitals for excellence in nursing. Additional information is available by visiting LVHN.org, or following us on Facebook and Twitter.