Are you preoccupied with pain throughout your day?
Do you have to avoid or curb participation in work-related or desirable activities due to discomfort and dysfunction?
While most of us will experience at least some physical pain from time to time, for some people their pain becomes chronic and long-lasting, which can lead to significant physical and mental distress.
Pain is a respectable physical response that lets us know when there is something wrong with our bodies. For example, if you accidentally touch a hot stovetop, your immediate reaction is to pull your hand away. Your brain recognizes the pain that the hot stovetop causes, sometimes even before you realize it yourself.
Your brain knows that if you keep your hand on that hot surface any longer, there is a possibility that you may sustain a serious injury.
However, sometimes pain occurs outside of the traditional realm. Sometimes, our bodies may feel pain due to an underlying condition that we have no control over. When we experience pain, it can linger for hours, days, weeks, or even months. Chronic pain can be defined as a persistent pain that lingers for 3-6 months or longer, despite efforts to alleviate it.
Chronic pain is the most common reason why people seek medical help, and there is a vast variety of reasons why it may occur. If you are suffering from chronic pain may experience limited mobility, anxiety or depression, dependence on prescription drugs, and/or an overall impact on your quality of life.
While this can be frustrating and debilitating, physical therapy can help relieve the pain.
Acute pain can be defined as a temporary pain that usually goes away on its own within a few hours, days, or weeks.
Our previous example of touching the hot stovetop and then pulling your hand away quickly would be considered an example of acute pain because the pain would likely subside shortly after you pull your hand away.
Why does chronic pain occur?
Chronic pain generally has a combination of environmental and genetic components. Risk factors include family and medical history, advancing age, a history of trauma, alcohol use, tobacco use, mental health, and the presence of other comorbid conditions like obesity. In some cases, chronic pain is considered “idiopathic,” meaning there is no clear cause.
Most chronic pain cases are rooted in the musculoskeletal system, which consists of your bones, muscles, joints, and connective tissues.
Any type of pain you experience – whether it’s a headache, back pain, joint pain, nerve pain, etc. – can become chronic if it lasts for three months or longer. Some of the most common reasons why chronic pain occurs are:
- Overuse Injuries. Your gait, posture, stance, and the ways in which you work or exercise can all take a toll on your body if you are not careful. Overuse injuries are common conditions that develop when part of the body is used in excessive repetitive motions over a period of time. Most overuse injuries occur when improper techniques are used, causing an abnormal strain on the affected body part. When this happens, your joints and muscles can become damaged, thus resulting in chronic pain. Physical therapy can help you learn how to properly move your body in your everyday life, in order to avoid overuse injuries.
- Accidents. According to a 2016 statistic found by OSHA, workplace injuries happen to approximately 2.9 out of every 100 employees. A study published by the journal Pain also states that 21% of people involved in motor vehicle accidents develop chronic, widespread pain in the weeks following their accident. While this pain won’t go away on its own, seeking the help of a physical therapist can help in alleviating it. Any accident can lead to chronic pain, whether it occurs in the workplace, in a motor vehicle, or even in your own home. PT treatments can help provide relief for any accident-related chronic pain.
- Surgery. Unfortunately, surgical procedures are sometimes unavoidable. When surgery is necessary to correct a certain painful condition, the recovery period itself may prove to be just as painful. Surgical repair of an area on the body may be enough to correct a structural problem, but we often compensate in our movement for the pain we experience. Weeks, months, or even years of compensatory movement often causes additional pain after surgery, if said movement is not corrected. Physical therapy offers both pre-surgical and post-surgical rehabilitation services that can help relieve pain, speed up recovery time, and reduce the risk of developing chronic pain in the future.
- Disease. There are a large variety of diseases that can lead to chronic pain, including multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, neuropathy, arthritis, and diabetes. The chronic pain experienced from these conditions can range from dull to severe, but it can be managed or even alleviated completely with physical therapy.
How does physical therapy relieve chronic pain?
Physical therapy has proven successful in treating cases of chronic pain. The Physical Therapist will assess any underlying structural causes surrounding or contributing to your pain and will conduct a thorough physical evaluation before designing a treatment plan.
Our physical therapist will then examine areas of your body that are weak, out of balance, or have a limited range of motion. By doing this, our physical therapist can isolate the true cause of your chronic pain and determine the best course of treatment for your specific needs.
Treatment plans for chronic pain will likely include the following:
- Therapeutic exercise to restore mobility, reduce inflammation, increase strength, and correct abnormal movement patterns
- Massage and other types of manual techniques to increase circulation, break up scar tissue, and provide physical/mental stress relief
- Non-invasive modalities like heat, ice, cold laser therapy, and electrical stimulation to relieve pain and reduce spasms
- Lifestyle and nutritional guidance to reduce the risk of recurring pain and reduce chronic inflammation
It may also include targeted exercises to increase strength and stretching to improve your balance. Your treatment plan will incorporate in-clinic treatments, as well as at-home treatments, in order to ensure that you are remaining healthy and active at all times.
Our physical therapy team frequently diagnoses and treats the following chronic pain conditions:
- Soft tissue injury: microscopic tears in muscles and tendons which do not heal properly can become inflamed, painful, and stiff. This often leads to scar tissue and areas of tightness in the fascia (a widespread inner connective tissue layer encasing the musculoskeletal system) which can further inhibit movement and lead to persistent pain.
- Muscle spasms: Abnormal stress on muscles (or even mental and emotional stress) can cause muscles to enter painful chronic spasms. Muscle spasms in the neck can also tug on cranial membranes, leading to chronic headaches.
- Degenerative joint conditions: osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, and joint misalignments can cause persistent achy pain along with other symptoms depending on the area of the body involved.
- Compressed nerves: nerves in the extremities or spine can become pinched by altered joints, injured discs, spasmed muscles, and other structures, leading to inflammation, swelling, and symptoms like numbness, tingling, shooting/searing pain, and weakness. Common nerve impingement conditions include carpal tunnel syndrome and sciatica.
- Fibromyalgia: this is a chronic pain syndrome hallmarked by widespread pain, fatigue, and additional symptoms including insomnia and anxiety.
If you are experiencing chronic pain, call our clinic today to book an appointment!