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How Physical Therapy Helps With Chronic Pain

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in 5 adults in America suffer from chronic pain, with over 19 million experiencing high-impact chronic pain. Chronic pain contributes to medical costs, disability, and lost productivity to the tune of an estimated $560 billion each year.

Finding chronic pain relief is not easy. Unlike acute pain, which goes away within a couple of weeks, chronic pain doesn’t. John Hopkins Medicine defines chronic pain as “long standing pain that persists beyond the usual recovery period or occurs along with a chronic health condition, such as arthritis.” This pain can occur all the time or only some of the time and may impact how much a person can enjoy their day-to-day life.  Well-known causes include:

  • Back injuries
  • Arthritis
  • Headaches
  • Cancer
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Nerve damage

In light of the opioid epidemic, many people may not want to use opioids or other painkillers to treat chronic pain. In fact, the CDC recommends using drug-free treatments whenever possible and highlights physical therapy as a good option. “There is high-quality evidence that exercise therapy (a prominent [part of] physical therapy) for…osteoarthritis reduces pain and improves function immediately after treatment and that the improvements are sustained for at least 2–6 months…Exercise therapy also can help reduce pain and improve function in low back pain and can improve global well-being and physical function in fibromyalgia.”

Physical therapy works over time and for the long term. With a variety of techniques and options, a physical therapist can adjust to help find relief that works. Physical therapists may help patients with therapeutic exercise techniques, perform massage and joint manipulation, or provide education, including in how to use new equipment. They evaluate and monitor progress throughout care.

Occupational therapists can also help with pain management by helping people continue doing what they like to do. Recent research on the unique role occupational therapists have in chronic pain management observed “occupational therapists are particularly interested in how individuals living with [chronic pain] can perform and engage in…everything people do to occupy themselves.” Occupational therapists might help patients learn how to pace actions, modify how an  activity gets completed, or add new skills which will help alleviate pain.

Most importantly, occupational and physical therapists, like those at Community Physical Therapy & Associates, are movement experts who can work with healthcare teams to create individualized plans. Since no two people experience chronic pain in the same way, having adaptable strategies is key so each individual is able to develop, maintain and restore maximum movement and function that fits their own life and needs.

Sources: CDC  and APTA