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Physical Therapy for Chronic Pain

Golfer on golf course holding left shoulder and lower back in pain.

The benefits of physical therapy for musculoskeletal injuries and orthopedic disorders are widely recognized.  Its effectiveness in reducing pain and dysfunction in individuals with chronic pain disorders is less well-known.  The evidence is there, however, and in 2016, the CDC released new guidelines listing physical therapy as a preferred treatment for pain disorders as part of ongoing efforts to decrease the number of opioid pain medications prescribed.

What is Chronic Pain?

Pain/discomfort lasting longer than 3 months is considered chronic, and approximately 116 million Americans have chronic pain each year.  Lost wages, work time and medical bills add up to a costs of upwards of $560 billion a year.

In a chronic pain condition, the source of the pain is often unknown, or has long since healed.  The nervous system has taken over and become the source of pain.  While treatment with pain medications can decrease pain intensity, the relief is generally short-lived and may wane over time.  In addition, the risks of addiction, leftover medications being made available to the public and overdose deaths cannot be ignored.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

Physical therapy interventions including structured exercise, soft tissue and joint mobilizations, modalities such as electrical stimulation and patient education aim to decrease pain permanently rather than mask it for a short time.

The efficacy of physical therapy for reducing pain and improving function has been demonstrated in a variety of chronic pain conditions, including:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Nonspecific low back pain
  • Whiplash associated disorders
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD)/chronic regional pain syndrome
  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction

At Phoenix, our physical therapists understand the multi-faceted nature of pain, and the importance of a team approach in treating persistent pain disorders. Your physical therapist (PT) will design a treatment program specific to your needs and symptoms in order to relieve pain and increase function.  For more detailed information on how a PT can help you, visit the Phoenix location nearest you.

Source: Kim Poehlmann, PT, DPT & Moveforwardpt.com