How Physical Therapy Helps With Pain Management

Patient with physical therapist

“Pain is weakness leaving the body.” “No pain, no gain.” We hear these phrases often in response to being in pain as if living with pain every day is expected and normal. Granted, not one of us will go through life completely pain-free. However, this doesn’t mean that if you’re in pain you just ignore it and try to continue to live every day as if you’re not in pain. Instead, there are ways to manage pain if it’s chronic and if you’re suffering from an injury. Furthermore, part of managing pain is to diagnose and rehabilitate to become pain-free or, at the very least mitigate the effects of pain. Many times, this doesn’t include prescription pain medications like opioids or surgery. Physical therapy is one of the best-proven methods of pain management.

Physical Therapy’s Role In Chronic Pain Management

Each year, over 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, defined as noticeable or significant pain that lasts several months to even years. Chronic pain doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in pain 100% of the time, but that the pain is consistent during certain movements and over a long period. A physical therapist is someone to have on your team if you’re in chronic pain, whether it’s pain from a medical condition or something else.

Physical therapy plays an important role in helping with chronic pain management.

  1. A physical therapist can help the patient understand the cause of the pain and its triggers. This means that the patient can learn to avoid certain things to prevent or limit pain.
  2. Diagnosis. Although a physical therapist is not a medical doctor, they can help determine the underlying cause of the pain. This is especially the case if the pain is not due to a medical condition, such as arthritis. Sometimes a patient is in pain due to other circumstances that the physical therapist can help discover – such as lifestyle, posture issues, mobility, and movement.
  3. Management. After discovering the underlying cause, a physical therapist will then recommend the right course of action to manage the pain, rehabilitate the affected area if possible, and limit future pain. Usually, this entails a combination of manual and physical or exercise therapy.

Dealing With Pain From An Injury

Although similar to the end goal of being pain-free, there are differences in dealing with acute pain caused by an injury versus chronic pain. When a patient is in pain from an injury, it makes it difficult to rehabilitate the affected area effectively. Pain can cause improper movement and alignment, such as uneven weight or poor posture. It can also cause limping as well as a lack of motivation.

When a patient is in physical therapy from an injury or post-surgery, the number one goal of the physical therapist is to get the patient moving without causing more pain. They will start out assessing what causes more pain and then avoid those exercises until the patient is ready. They will work on gradually increasing exercises and intensity to help build your strength back.

How Physical Therapy Helps Manage Pain

Research has shown that exercise and physical activity are extremely helpful when it comes to pain management. This is why physical therapy is one of the best alternatives to pain medication and can even prevent surgery. Physical therapy uses exercise and movement to help manage pain and even in some cases eliminate it. When it comes to chronic and acute pain, the goal of physical therapy is to get the patient moving again and to become stronger. Strength and movement are keys to managing and eliminating pain.

Furthermore, physical therapists are concerned with teaching patients how to move safely and to the best of their ability. It may seem counter-intuitive, but physical inactivity is one of the biggest contributors to pain. It weakens supportive muscles that help the body move correctly, even causing stiffness. When the body cannot function properly, pain is often the response. Physical therapists work with each patient to understand their pain and inflammation to help effectively treat their pain. They will look for sources of inflammation, stiffness, and weakness that are contributing to the pain. A physical therapist will then create a program that will treat those areas. This helps patients not only manage pain but also move better.