3 Benefits of Treating Pain With Physical Therapy
When it comes to chronic pain, there are a variety of ways we can try to reduce, overcome, or eliminate it. From pain medication to mindfulness techniques, many of us have tried a range of different approaches in our quest to free ourselves from the ongoing pain we experience.
One available option is physical therapy. Perhaps you’ve tried it before or currently visit a physical therapist. If so, you’re in good company. Globally, there are over 1.6 million registered physical therapists (over 233K in the U.S. alone), and millions of patients visit them every year (1).
This article will identify and investigate some of the benefits of using physical therapy to treat chronic pain, including how it can be more cost-effective and can prevent the need to take strong medications like opioids. We’ll also take a look at patellofemoral pain syndrome (also known as runner’s knee) and how physical therapy can help people who suffer from this condition.
Physical Therapy: What It Is & How It Can Help You
Let’s start by talking about what physical therapy is and why people participate in it. Physical therapy is a discipline that is used to treat patients who are immobilized or whose movement and flexibility are impaired (2). People typically go to physical therapy after they’ve had an accident, stroke, or surgery; other times they go because of a sports injury.
Physical therapists (specialists who are trained in assessing and treating musculoskeletal, neurological, cardiopulmonary, and other body disorders) (3) use a variety of techniques to help their patients heal, relieve pain, regain balance, and improve movement. These can include stretches, exercises, massage, and therapies that incorporate heat, cold, water, ultrasounds, or electrical stimulation (4).
Physical therapists also frequently help their patients learn how to use mobility aids like canes, walkers, and crutches. They design customized treatment programs for their patients that take into account their personal struggles, health conditions, and goals. People of all ages and abilities can benefit from physical therapy.
One of the leading reasons why people visit physical therapists is to find relief from back pain. Upper and low back problems impact as many as 80% of Americans throughout their lives (5), and often, that pain motivates many people to try physical therapy. In fact, 46% of U.S. physical therapist visits in 2020 were for this reason (6). According to one study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, physical therapy works as well as surgery to relieve the pain from lumbar spinal stenosis (7), a type of low back pain, along with having significantly fewer risks.
3 Benefits of Using Physical Therapy to Combat Pain
Physical therapy offers many different benefits that range from restoring and improving muscle movement and function to hastening along with the recovery from an injury. But one of the most notable reasons why people go to physical therapists is to relieve pain and to alleviate the symptoms of chronic conditions.
- Avoid Using Other Medications
One of the benefits of using physical therapy for pain management is that it can help people avoid using other medications (including addictive opioids). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) even recommends that people in most cases choose physical therapy over opioids to manage pain (8) so they can avoid the negative side effects and addiction risks of opioids, in addition to doing more than just “masking the pain” since, unlike opioids, physical therapy treats the actual structural issue.
- Preventing the Need for Surgery
Another benefit of physical therapy is that it may be effective at preventing the need for surgery, especially in the case of a chronic condition. Since surgeries are costly and frequently carry serious health risks, it is generally preferable to carry out a program of exercises and stretches to manage and overcome chronic pain instead. Some conditions, in particular, are known to respond so well to physical therapy that surgery can frequently be avoided altogether (9). These include rotator cuff tears, meniscal tears, knee osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis, and degenerative disc disease, among others.
- Reduce Health Care Costs
When it comes to cost, a recent study found that when patients have direct access to physical therapy there is a reduction in the costs associated with the therapy and in total health care costs (10) (compared to when physicians oversee the selection of the services their patients must utilize). Additionally, the study discovered that patients experienced a greater functional outcome as well. In other words, when people choose for themselves how frequently they should see their physical therapist (versus a doctor directing this), it’s more cost-effective and beneficial to their recovery and health.
Another study found that when physical therapy is combined with pain neuroscience education (PNE) that teaches patients about pain perceptions and expectations, they felt more in control of their pain experience (11) from that point forward. This increase in pain self-efficacy, as it’s called, means that people are better able to cope with and successfully manage their pain.
Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome: Physical Therapy Can Help
One example of a health condition that a physical therapist frequently help with is patellofemoral pain syndrome (12) known more commonly as “runner’s knee”. Many runners and basketball players experience this type of chronic pain. Symptoms of patellofemoral pain syndrome include discomfort around the kneecap.
Doctors commonly use costly imaging tests like CT scans, MRIs, and X-rays to diagnose this problem, and sometimes people resort to expensive surgical procedures that carry all kinds of risks to remedy it (e.g.: arthroscopy and realignment). In many cases, however, physical therapy can be a more cost-effective and less intrusive treatment for patellofemoral pain syndrome. Physical therapists may recommend supportive braces, taping, and icing, in addition to teaching the patient how to exercise the muscles around the knee to strengthen and correct its alignment and movements.
A Final Word From Lin
It can get tiresome trying to find the right “fix” for our chronic pain. Of all the pain relief choices out there, physical therapy is a great option to consider because it doesn’t involve addictive medicines that simply mask the pain, require a ton of time or money, or necessitate the risks and costs associated with surgical remedies. Practiced alongside Pain Neuroscience Education (PNE), it can restore and/or improve muscle movement, speed up recoveries, prevent future injuries, and alleviate recurrent pain while also allowing the patient/client? to learn how to effectively function despite their pain. At Lin, we will pair you with a personal health coach who will assist you in determining if physical therapy might help to reduce your pain. Contact us today.