How Physical Therapy Can Help Manage Chronic Pain

Perhaps you’ve heard about physical therapy — maybe your neighbor swears by it, or you’ve been looking into it yourself. Let’s define it: According to the National Library of Medicine, physical therapy helps to relieve pain by improving movement and strengthening the body. 

Physical therapy helps show patients take care of their own health, too — not just getting treated by professionals. Physical therapists can take a log of what pain issues are bothering you and work to create a plan to help soothe them. These professionals also can share information about being active between sessions, from maximizing walking workouts to stretching and more, to help enhance the quality of your life. 

Curious to learn more about how physical therapy could help manage chronic pain? Continue reading!

What’s Chronic Pain and How Does Physical Therapy Help Manage It?

The definition of chronic pain is pain that persists for 12 weeks (three months) even after the initial cause, either an injury or illness, has healed. The pain can go on for weeks, potentially creating difficult negative physical or mental effects. Chronic pain prevents people from being productive at work, engaging in activities they enjoy, and disrupts their sleep. 

So, why choose physical therapy to manage chronic pain? 

Physical therapy targets the cause of someone’s pain, meaning it can offer long-term relief to patients. For instance, let’s say you have a muscle sprain that’s causing notable pain. A physical therapist might recommend exercises that aim to strengthen the muscles around the injury to reduce pain.

The pain specialists at a pain management clinic in Bartlesville, OK work closely with their patients to understand their pain. They then can tailor treatments that involve modern interventions and holistic approaches to address the root cause of pain. Their dedication to science and the provider-patient relationship has helped restore clients to their happy lives. 

Understanding How Therapy Helps Manage Chronic Pain

During physical therapy, a therapist might perform a physical exam. They can check for stiffness or weaknesses that may be adding strain and causing pain. They may then use exercise to ease the pain. 

Exercises done in physical therapy sessions might include: 

1. Aerobic exercises

Workouts like swimming, walking, cycling, and running increase your heart rate, which can result in improved blood flow. Enhanced blood flow helps reduce stiffness: Muscles relax and become more flexible, bringing comfort to aching areas. Other benefits of low-intensity aerobic workouts include improved fitness, reduced fatigue, and enhanced mood. 

Typically, excess weight adds strain to joints, while fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression worsen pain as they increase the risk of inflammation. Aerobic exercises can help reduce all these risk factors for a more pain-free life. 

2. Strength-training

Weightlifting, squats, pushups, glutes, and lunges are perfect examples of strength training exercises. Patients might perform these at a physical therapy center or in their homes, using equipment, resistance bands, or their own body weight. Remember to talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise program; the last thing anyone wants is to hurt more. 

Therapists might encourage stretching exercises to help:

  • Help reduce stiffness in muscles and joints
  • Improve balance
  • Take some pressure off joints and discs, especially in the spine
  • Reduce risk of injury and shorten recovery time

Over time, strength training can help lower pain intensity by boosting movement and flexibility. 

3. Stretching

There are several ways stretching helps with chronic pain, like: 

  • Increases flexibility:

We lose flexibility as we get older, which can make simple tasks like reaching our toes tricky. With improved motion or flexibility, we don’t have to strain as much when carrying out everyday tasks. This could result in reduced injuries and structural issues (major causes of chronic pain). 

  • Promotes body alignment:

Regular stretching helps the shoulders, back, hips, ankles, and knees align properly. This aids in improving mobility and decreases inflammation (a common cause of persistent pain). 

  • Improves blood flow, reduces stress, and boosts oxygen circulation:

Stress can trigger the release of hormones like cortisol that can increase inflammation, along with possible fatigue, diabetes, muscle weakness, and more. So, by reducing stress, we can potentially prevent pain flare-ups. Improved blood flow and oxygen circulation can help support the release of the body’s natural painkillers (endorphins), which help relieve pain. 

4. Relaxation exercises for pain relief

Relaxation can be a vital part of therapeutic exercises in physical therapy. While keeping muscles and joints active is important, it’s also important to relax. Some techniques to relax might include deep breathing, yoga, mindful meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation. 

Other physical therapy treatments for managing chronic pain include:

  • Deep tissue massages aim to promote blood flow in muscles to minimize tension and pain.
  • Heat and cold packs can reduce soreness, inflammation, and pain.
  • Graded motor imagery (GMI) is a technique that relies on the brain’s neural connection to decrease pain sensitivity. For example, your therapist could ask you to visualize movement without moving. This trick helps teach your brain not to create or sense pain.
  • TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) is a machine a trained professional applies that sends a low-voltage electrical current through the body to help reduce pain. 
  • Ultrasounds can heat your body’s soft tissues to reduce inflammation, hence reducing pain. 

Conclusion-Role of Physical Therapy in Pain Management Explained

The purpose of physical therapy is to enhance the range of motion, strengthen the body, and relieve pain. To achieve these, physical therapists use exercises, from strength training to stretching and aerobics. 

These aim at increasing flexibility, reducing stress, improving health, and lower inflammation, thus decreasing pain levels. Other techniques like deep breathing, massage, ultrasound, and graded imagery are used in physical therapy to lessen pain.

Remember to always seek the advice of a trained professional when looking to manage chronic pain, and we hope you feel better soon!