For relief from chronic pain, orthopedic doctors often recommend physical therapy because it can dramatically improve your quality of life. If you've never been to physical therapy, here is what you can expect.
Physical therapy is all about you. The therapist will go over the various aspects of your pain the first time you meet. If you’re anxious about some aspect of physical therapy, this is the time to bring it up. It’s also a great time to bring up any specific goals you have. Maybe you’d like to walk longer distances or ride your bike again, for instance. The more open you can be about problem areas and goals, the better. Once you’ve reviewed everything, the therapist will develop a program tailored specifically to your needs.
It’s natural to be cautious in your movement when you’re hurting, but physical activity is needed to decrease stiffness, ease pain, and enhance your overall functional ability. Having a physical therapist direct and monitor your movements will dispel your worries about injuring yourself, allowing you to safely push yourself beyond what you could do independently.
An opportunity to avoid surgery
Physical therapy is a nonsurgical treatment often recommended to patients before considering surgery. The combination of manual therapies, specific functional strengthening exercise, stretches, and modalities can often relieve pain and improve functional ability so well that surgery is avoided.
Hands-on pain relief
Manual therapy is often used in skilled physical therapy – it involves pressure applied to targeted areas of the body to improve tissue extensibility, increase range of motion, and mobilize soft tissue and joints in effort to reduce pain.
Strategies to ease pain
Physical therapists are often a good resource to help you understand physiological factors and neuroscience involved in your pain. They are also able to suggest some ergonomic tweaks to your workstation and/or explain how tobacco use or alcohol could make your pain worse.
Support and encouragement
Working closely with someone focused on relieving your pain can offer both a physical and mental boost. Chronic pain can be an isolating experience, and it’s nice to know you’re not alone.
Sense of control
Knowing that there is a way to reduce and manage your pain on your own, without medicines or surgery, can give you a sense of control. That sense of control can ease the release of stress hormones, further reducing pain.
Physical therapy sessions generally run from about 20 minutes to an hour, and usually include more than one visit per week. Over time, most people learn exercises and stretches to perform independently at home, and formal physical therapy appointments are no longer needed.