Some type of physical therapy is often recommended to manage pain persistent, or chronic, pain. Patients may benefit from a personalized PT plan that incorporates both active (the patient participates) and passive (done to the patient) techniques, or modules. Such methods may ease discomfort linked to non-specific low back pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia, or pain due to damage to tissues or nerves (neuropathic pain).
Identifying Sources of Chronic Pain
Physical therapy isn’t going to be effective unless likely sources of pain are identified. Physical therapists often coordinate treatment plans with a patient’s doctor and perform additional assessments and evaluations to get a better idea of what type of PT to recommend.
Soft Tissue Manipulation
A key component of most physical therapy routines for pain management is the manipulation and stimulation of various soft tissues, including muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Manipulative PT often involves massage therapy, the manipulation of joints and bones, and may include:
- Manual therapy with hands or special tools
- Cold laser therapy to ease inflammation
- Electrical stimulation therapy
- Transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy
Reducing Inflammation and Swelling
Mild forms of PT such as temperature therapy or the targeting of specific tissues with manipulation combined with the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are meant to ease swelling around joints. Effectively reducing inflammation makes it easier for patients to participate in other forms of PT.
Physical Therapy Exercises
Exercise is a key focus of most PT treatment plans. Physical therapy exercises often include mild or moderate stretching. If joint pain makes it difficult to exercise, water-based exercises or water aerobics may be recommended. Patients may be encouraged to continue exercising between sessions by:
- Walking at least 20-30 minutes per day
- Performing specific stretches to prevent muscle stiffness
- Adopting an appropriate weight lifting routine
How PT Helps Manage Chronic Pain
Chronic pain sufferers often benefit from a reduction in painful swelling and an increased strengthening of muscles. Physical therapy may also manage chronic pain by improving posture, allowing patients to get more productive and recuperative sleep, and counteracting muscle weakness.
Physical therapy is considered highly effective for the management of chronic pain since it can be tailored to very specific needs and abilities. It’s also highly adaptive in that different techniques can be recommended as progress is made or needs change over time. Patients who respond well to PT often enjoy increased muscle strength and flexibility and fewer instances of disruptive pain.