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Physical Therapy For Chronic Pain: Benefits and Treatment Techniques

May 19th, 2023 | 4 min. read

Physical Therapy For Chronic Pain: Benefits and Treatment Techniques
Molly Cheeley

Molly Cheeley

Licensed Physical Therapist, PT, DPT // Herman and Wallace Pelvic Floor Level 1 Certified // EW Motion Therapy Trussville

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Chronic pain is a complex and often debilitating condition affecting millions of people worldwide. Various factors, including injury, disease, and long-term wear and tear on the body can cause it. Along with physical discomfort, it can take a severe toll on your mental health - you may wonder if you will ever be pain-free and able to do your favorite activities again.


While many treatments are available for chronic pain, physical therapy is one approach that can be highly effective in managing and reducing pain symptoms. In fact, pain management is often one of the first goals of any physical therapy treatment, especially for our clients at EW Motion Therapy. Even if you decide our services do not fit your needs, you can still read on as we discuss the conditions that can cause chronic pain, how physical therapy can help, and other pain management techniques. 


Download our Physical Therapy Q&A Here!


What conditions can cause chronic pain?

Low back pain is one of the most common conditions that physical therapy can help manage. According to the American Physical Therapy Association, nearly two-thirds of adults in the United States will experience low back pain at some point. Physical therapy can effectively treat low back pain by improving posture, strengthening core muscles, and reducing inflammation and stiffness in the affected area.


Another condition that can be effectively managed with physical therapy is osteoarthritis. This condition causes degeneration of the joints, leading to pain, stiffness, and limited range of motion. Physical therapy can help improve joint mobility and reduce pain symptoms by incorporating exercises that strengthen the muscles around the affected joint.


Fibromyalgia is another chronic pain condition that can benefit from physical therapy. This condition is characterized by widespread pain, fatigue, and other symptoms. Physical therapy can help improve overall fitness levels, reduce pain symptoms, and improve sleep quality in patients with fibromyalgia.


How does physical therapy help chronic pain?

Physical therapy is a non-invasive and drug-free approach to pain management that focuses on improving the body’s strength, flexibility, and function. A physical therapist will work with patients to develop a personalized treatment plan that may include a variety of techniques and exercises, depending on the specific condition causing the pain. 


Here are some specific strategies that a physical therapist might use:


  1. Exercise therapy: Exercise therapy is a cornerstone of physical therapy. Physical therapists may use various exercises to help reduce pain, improve strength, flexibility, and range of motion. They will tailor an exercise program to the patient’s needs, considering the underlying condition causing the pain.
  2. Manual therapy: Manual therapy techniques are hands-on techniques used to mobilize or manipulate soft tissue and joints. Examples of manual therapy techniques include massage, joint mobilization, and manipulation. These techniques are designed to improve joint mobility and reduce pain.
  3. Modalities: Modalities are various physical agents or machines that help reduce pain, inflammation, and swelling. Examples of modalities include ice or heat therapy, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and laser therapy.
  4. Education: Physical therapists will educate their patients on managing their pain, including proper posture, body mechanics, and ways to modify activities to avoid aggravating pain.
  5. Cognitive-behavioral therapy: Physical therapists may also use cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques to help their patients manage their pain. These techniques may include relaxation training, stress management, and cognitive restructuring, which allow patients to change how they think about and respond to their pain.
  6. Graded exposure: For patients with chronic pain, graded exposure techniques may be used. This involves gradually increasing activity levels to help reduce fear and avoidance behaviors that may be contributing to the pain.


Physical therapists will work closely with their patients to develop a personalized treatment plan that addresses the underlying cause of the pain and meets their individual needs.


How else can you manage chronic pain?

In addition to physical therapy, you can use other methods for pain management in conjunction with or instead of medication. These include:


  1. Mind-body techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, and yoga can help reduce stress and promote relaxation, which can, in turn, help reduce pain symptoms.
  2. Acupuncture, a traditional Chinese medicine technique that involves inserting thin needles into the skin, can help reduce pain and improve overall wellness.
  3. Chiropractic care, which focuses on the alignment of the spine and other joints, can help improve joint mobility and reduce pain symptoms.
  4. Massage therapy can help reduce muscle tension and improve circulation, which can help reduce pain symptoms.


Chronic pain can be challenging, but physical therapy can help reduce pain symptoms and improve overall function. If you are experiencing chronic pain, talk to your healthcare provider about whether physical therapy or other pain management techniques may suit you. We consider it a privilege at EW Motion Therapy to help our clients manage pain and return to their favorite activities. If you are curious about what else physical therapy can do for you, click the button below to download our answers to 20 frequently-asked physical therapy questions.

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