Pain Science Physical Therapy: Understanding Your Body

Chronic pain is one of the most common reasons adults seek medical care. Fortunately, pain science physical therapy can help you feel better, resulting in an improved/better quality of life. 

The Prevalence of Chronic Pain

Chronic or persistent pain has been defined as pain that lasts for more than 12 weeks despite medication and/or treatment.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2016, approximately 20.4% or 50.0 million U.S. adults had chronic pain and 8.0% or 19.6 million U.S. adults had high-impact chronic pain. 

According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, more than 1.5 billion people around the world are experiencing chronic pain. 

Who are at Risk for Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain can affect people of all ages and all parts of the body. However, it is most common among older adults. 

Other factors that can increase your risk of developing chronic pain include:

  1. An initial injury such as a pulled muscle or back sprain. 
  2. Diseases such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, or osteoarthritis. In more severe cases, multiple sclerosis, cancer, stomach ulcers, gallbladder disease, and AIDS.
  3. After having surgery.
  4. Being overweight or obese.
  5. Wearing high-heeled shoes.
  6. Several years of poor posture.
  7. Sleeping on a poor mattress.
  8. Improper lifting and carrying of heavy objects.
  9. After experiencing stress or extreme unhappiness.

How can you Treat Chronic Pain?

There are different ways to treat and manage chronic pain. The treatment method you need will depend on the type of chronic pain you feel:

  • Medication

There are several types of medications used for the treatment of chronic pain. The most commonly used are:

    • Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs and Acetaminophen (NSAIDs)

NSAIDs are very effective for acute bone and muscular pain as well as some types of chronic pain syndromes. However, when these are taken over an extended period or in large quantities, they may have negative effects on your kidneys, clotting of your blood, and your gastrointestinal system.

    • Anti-seizure medications or anticonvulsants

This type of medication helps ease some kinds of nerve pain such as shooting pain or burning. These are meant to be taken every day whether or not you feel pain. However, some of them have side effects such as drowsiness which often improves with time. In some cases, weight gain is a side effect. If you have glaucoma or kidney stones you have to tell your doctor because certain anticonvulsants are not recommended under those conditions.

    • Antidepressants

This type of medication has pain-relieving properties and is given in lower doses needed to treat depression. One side effect is having a dry mouth but this can be relieved with drinking water or other fluids. Most doctors who prescribe these, advise patients to take them at night because they are sedatives and it may be dangerous for patients to function if taken earlier in the day.

    • Muscle relaxants

These are often prescribed for acute muscle spasms. Like most pain medications, muscle relaxants can make you drowsy.

    • Opioids

In some cases, when pain is present all day and all night, doctors recommend a long-acting opioid. As long as opioids are used appropriately, they can be very effective in controlling some types of chronic pain.

    • Topical creams and ointments

For patients who may not want to ingest medication, doctors recommend creams and ointments that contain capsaicin (a substance that generates heat). These are usually applied directly to the skin three to four times per day. Lidocaine creams or patches are also recommended for the treatment of chronic pain.

    • Trigger Point Injections

This procedure is used to treat painful areas of muscle containing trigger points, or knots of muscle that form when muscles do not relax. A small needle is used to inject a local anesthetic that sometimes includes a steroid into a trigger point. This results in making the trigger point inactive which then alleviates the pain.

  • Non-drug treatments

    • Exercise

Light to moderate exercise has been proven to help improve blood and oxygen flow to muscles. This helps reduce stress. This is especially helpful for people who experience low back pain and arthritis.

    • Hot and/or cold compress

Applying heat and/or cold to a sore area regularly is a very effective treatment for chronic pain. You need to use hot or cold packs that have temperature limits to prevent burning or freezing your skin.

    • Acupuncture

A trained acupuncturist or therapist can help provide relief for all types of chronic pain using this treatment.

    • Pain Science Physical Therapy

Pain science physical therapy or pain science education physical therapy is a very effective treatment used by physical therapists. This treatment teaches people experiencing chronic pain, self-empowerment that helps them manage their symptoms.

How Will Patients Benefit from Pain Science Physical Therapy?

Before beginning treatment, a physical therapist will evaluate to determine how you move your body and what may be contributing to your pain. 

Your therapist will look for areas of stiffness or weakness in your body that may be adding stress to the places that hurt. 

As you work with a physical therapist, he/she will help you address what movements or activities trigger your pain or symptoms. When these are identified, your physical therapist will create a treatment plan that will help you with the activities that bring you pain. In addition to exercises, your therapist will also suggest modifications to your day-to-day activities.

Unlike many doctors, physical therapists working with patients in pain management focus on the patient’s pain and ask questions and talk about pain issues as you go through your treatment plan.

Some pain management methods that your therapist will use as part of your pain science physical therapy are:

  • Low-impact aerobics

These exercises will rev up your heart rate without jarring your joints. Brisk walking and using a stationary bike for warming up before doing strengthening exercises are good aerobic exercises.

  • Strengthening exercises

These exercises may include pushups, squats, and lunges), or you may need to use machines at your physical therapist’s clinic.

  • Massage therapy

Your physical therapist will use rhythmically applied pressure to your skin and soft tissues of your body. This helps relax painful muscles, joints, and tendons. It also helps reduce tension, anxiety, and stress. This, in turn, promotes overall circulation, flexibility, and relaxation. 

  • Manual therapy

This involves using hands-on manual therapy techniques to your body tissues to help your therapist to assess and treat you.

  • Electrical stimulation like TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) units

TENS therapy involves the use of a small, battery-operated device that delivers a low-voltage electrical current through your skin via electrodes placed near the source of your pain. The electricity will stimulate the nerves in the affected area and will send signals to your brain that will change your pain perception.

Here at Vigor Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation, we are your partners in pain management.

We have licensed therapists who have extensive experience and who will provide you with highly-personalized superior care. 

Here at Vigor Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation, we are committed to all of our patients’ health and wellness. You will be paired with a caring therapist who will diligently work to alleviate your pain and ultimately achieve your recovery as well as continued health throughout your life.

If you need more details or if you have other questions, contact us today.