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Mar 25, 2021

Physical Therapy for Chronic Pain: Will it Help?

pain relief, physical therapy for chronic pain

Nearly 100 million adults in the United States suffer from chronic pain. According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, that is more than a whopping 30 percent of the entire adult population who are coping with the life-altering fallout of chronic pain.

Chronic pain is described as persistent pain lasting more than three months. It can profoundly decrease your quality of life by preventing quality sleep, increased opioid dependence, reduced mobility, and much more.

Chronic pain can leave you and your healthcare team feeling confounded about why it won’t go away. You may have tried everything under the sun, from pain medication to surgery, but you’re frustrated that you’re still in pain.

Fortunately, there is a drug-free remedy for you if you’re suffering from chronic pain, and it could dramatically reduce — or even eliminate — your discomfort. That remedy is physical therapy.

Read on to learn more about how physical therapy and its treatments can relieve your chronic pain and allow you to live a fuller life again.

How Physical Therapy Can Relieve Chronic Pain

Pain is an uncomfortable, unpleasant sensory and emotional experience your brain produces in response to actual or perceived tissue damage.

The body uses nerves to send signals to the brain constantly. All parts of your brain work together to decide if the body’s messages should be interpreted as “danger” signals that result in the sensation of pain. Once the brain determines it needs to send a pain response, it develops a “pain” map for this activity or situation. This is a good shortcut for the brain as these pain maps can quickly trigger a pain sensation and protect you from further injury.

Often these pain maps in the brain become over-utilized and keep operating even after the tissues are healed. This can lead to chronic pain from an overly sensitive nervous system. Fortunately, physical therapy can help decrease the sensitivity of the nervous system in the following ways:

1. Physical therapy increases your physical strength.

When you are suffering from pain, it’s common to respond by resting to avoid more pain. Although it may seem counterintuitive to participate in body-strengthening exercises when you’re coping with chronic pain, it is precisely the answer to managing it.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), most people experience chronic pain that stems from their musculoskeletal system, including pain from bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, or joints. Five hundred sixty-eight million people endure chronic low back pain.

Physical therapy can lessen your nerve and joint pain as exercising strengthens your musculoskeletal muscles allowing for better support.

2. Physical therapy helps you reduce your fall risk and avoid new injuries.

Reducing your fall risk through physical therapy can prevent and reduce chronic pain. Falling is known to cause serious injuring leading to chronic pain. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that one in four adults over age 65 fall each year, and 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling.

Physical therapy incorporates exercises to improve your balance and strength to prevent future falls. Exercises to strengthen your core might be incorporated into your program. Core exercises train the muscles in your pelvis, lower back, hips, and abdomen to work together.

3. Physical therapy improves your flexibility and range of motion

Improved flexibility and increased range of motion lead to reduced pain. The term range of motion describes how much movement one of your joints can make in terms of distance and direction.

When you are inactive, your joints and muscles become less flexible and stiffer, reducing your range of motion and causing inflammation and joint pain. Everyday activities such as picking items up and getting out of bed become more difficult.

Physical therapy incorporates specific exercises and stretches to improve your flexibility and range of motion. This allows you to move your body in a healthy way without pain.

4. Physical therapy can help optimize your movement patterns

Did you know there are specific ways you can move to reduce pain? We develop habits in the way we move about in our daily lives and are often be unaware of those movements.

Physical therapy incorporates education to help you sit, stand, walk, bend, reach and do other movements safely. You could be moving in a way that increases your pain without realizing it.

During your physical therapy visit, your therapist may ask you to do some everyday movements to evaluate if they need tweaking. If it appears you can modify specific activities to reduce your chronic pain, they will show you how.

Physical Therapy Treatments

Physical therapy integrates a wide array of treatment modalities to provide relief for your chronic pain, including:

  • Exercise and stretching 

Exercise is a critical component of physical therapy to reduce chronic pain. It not only improves your mobility and strength but also rewires pain messages to your brain.

As you strengthen and move with less pain, your body sends messages to your brain that it won’t hurt you. This reinforcement allows you to move with less pain each time.

  • Education

In addition to physical treatments, your physical therapist provides you with educational information that empowers you to a life with less to no pain. They help you understand the source of your pain and lifestyle adaptations that can reduce it, such as home exercises and ergonomic moving throughout your day.

  • Manual therapy

Manual therapy is a specialized physical therapy method that utilizes specific, hands-on techniques. Manual therapy improves tissue extensibility; increases range of motion of the joint complex; mobilizes or manipulates soft tissues and joints; induces relaxation; changes muscle function; modulates pain; and reduces soft tissue swelling, inflammation, or movement restriction.

Chronic pain is relieved through manual therapy techniques such as massage and joint mobilization.

  • Dry Needling

Dry needling uses a very thin needle inserted into the muscle causing it to relax and decrease pain. It is safe, minimally discomforting, and often effective for patients with chronic pain.

  • Modalities

Your physical therapist may use therapeutic ultrasound to improve circulation and blood flow to promote healing and reduce chronic pain in some cases. Ultrasound is a treatment modality used to provide deep heating to muscles, tendons, joints, and ligaments in the body.

There are other modalities that your physical therapist can utilize, including electrical stimulation, iontophoresis, heat, ice, etc. Talk to your physical therapist to learn if any of these are appropriate for you!

Get Relief From Chronic Pain

You don’t have to live with chronic pain. At Rock Valley PT, we have skilled physical therapists who are trained in pain science and how to treat your chronic pain. Contact us today and find out how you can get back to living a life free of chronic pain.