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Iola therapists join collaborative research

Advanced Physical Therapy Associates, located at 115 N Main St, in Iola, is taking part in a study looking at ways to use non-pharmacological treatments for chronic pain. Holly Neumann photo

NIH sponsors clinical trial

By Holly Neumann

Advanced Physical Therapy Associates in Iola is collaborating with the University of Iowa and Vanderbilt University on a clinical trial.

The goal is to find ways that help combat the opioid crisis, which continues to impact communities.

Statewide, there were more than 1,400 opioid-related deaths in 2021, according to Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and the Helping to End Addiction Long Term Initiative, the goal of the research is to improve the management and treatment of pain, in order to prevent opioid misuse and addiction.

“I feel honored to have our organization and clinic participating in this clinical trial, especially with this being the first NIH sponsored pragmatic clinical trial for the physical therapy profession,” said Adam Wirtz, PT, DPT. “The data that will be collected and analyzed could have significant ramifications for how to better treat individuals with chronic pain.”

Wirtz said having a form of treatment that is non-pharmacological, and proven to be effective, could drastically change how health-care professionals treat chronic pain.

“There are multiple factors as to why opioid medications are prescribed at a high rate,” said Wirtz. “Some of these factors are societal in nature. Our society at large has been taught to search for instant gratification in all facets of life, including health care over the last few decades.”

According to Wirtz, many patients demand action from their physician to address chronic pain, often in the form of pain medication.

“They simply will not accept no for an answer,” said Wirtz. “Over the last 25 years, we have an entire generation of individuals that have grown up with easy access to opioids, with millions of them becoming addicted over time. Opioid medications are relatively inexpensive, making them easier for patients to afford.”

Easing pain without opioids

Non-drug treatments and lifestyle changes are typically more expensive and are more difficult to adhere to, which leads to many individuals seeking out pharmacological forms of treatment.

“As things currently stand, I don’t see an end to this high rate of opioid prescriptions,” said Wirtz. “That is why research is needed to help identify practical, easy to use non-drug treatments that are effective for reducing pain and are affordable for the vast majority of individuals.”

He feels that once there are other viable non-drug options, medical providers can start to move away from opioids as the primary form of treatment for chronic pain.

The project, Fibromyalgia Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) in Physical Therapy Study (FM-TIPS), focuses on real-world healthcare solutions for individuals with fibromyalgia and chronic pain.

“I do believe that TENS can be a long-term solution for chronic pain in individuals diagnosed with fibromyalgia,” said Wirtz. “Current research has previously demonstrated that TENS can be effective for treating individuals with chronic pain by activating the brain’s natural endogenous opioid pathways that are critically important for dampening down pain intensity and nervous system sensitivity levels.”

There are no side effects associated with this, unlike with opioid medications.

“Time will tell how effective TENS will ultimately be in assisting with treatment of chronic pain,” said Wirtz. “There likely will be additional research in the future for additional non-drug treatments that will be developed and identified, and I am excited to see what those options will be.”

Participating in research

In accordance with their philosophy of delivering research-based, individualized care, Advanced Physical Therapy Associates is providing eligible patients the opportunity to participate in FM-TIPS.

Individuals with fibromyalgia who are interested in participating in this study can contact the Advanced Physical Therapy Associates clinic in Iola at 715-445-2300 to schedule an appointment.

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