Chronic pain is defined as ongoing or recurrent pain that lasts beyond the usual course of an injury or illness. Usually, pain that lasts three or more months is considered to be chronic. It is a debilitating condition that affects at least 116 million Americans. Left untreated, chronic pain often leads to depression, dysfunction and social isolation.
Experts trained in pain medicine utilize multiple approaches for management of chronic pain. These often include medications, injections and nerve blocks. An important additional modality that is often employed is physical therapy. These, in combination, comprise the comprehensive management program that is known to provide the best results.
A healthcare provider may recommend regular, land based physical therapy or aquatic physical therapy. The latter approach is especially used for myofascial conditions like fibromyalgia.
There are five key ways a physical therapy program can help with chronic pain:
Strengthening and Flexibility Exercises
These exercises are designed to help a patient move more freely with less discomfort. The therapist will design a program of graded exercises starting with a very small amount of resistance, few repetitions or a small motion and gradually work upward in ability and endurance. The goal is to improve coordination, reduce stress and decrease pain.
A physical therapist will use gentle, hands-on techniques that manipulate, mobilize and stretch joints and soft tissue. For example, in a patient with knee pain, the therapist will manually pull and stretch certain leg muscles, as well as mobilize the knee itself. Manual therapy is used to increase the range of motion of a joint and improve overall muscle tone.
Poor posture may put strain on much of the body especially the spine. Back pain is one of the most common types of chronic pain. Learning proper posture while both standing and sitting may ease the stress on the body and decrease pain.
You’ve undoubtedly heard “lift with your legs, not your back.” Although that is one of the basics of body mechanics, there are many other components to it as well. There are correct and incorrect ways of performing many daily tasks. A physical therapist can teach you how to perform work and daily activities in ways that may minimize stress and strain on your body.
Physical therapists can help a patient understand their body mechanics and ways and means to perform daily activities without pain.
If your doctor has prescribed a course of physical therapy for you, ask for their recommendation. There are physical therapists who tend to specialize in certain areas such as sports medicine or pain management. Be sure to ask if they have experience in treating the particular condition that you may have.
Before your appointment take the time to prepare a comprehensive history of your conditions such as factors that make these symptoms better or worse. The more feedback you provide, the greater is the likelihood of success.