Chronic pain affects an estimated 116 million Americans each year, but what exactly defines chronic pain?
Chronic pain is a condition where the brain interprets a slew of signals coming from the body as a threat. It can and often does occur independently of any actual tissue damage and manifests itself beyond normal tissue healing time. With chronic pain, the pain relayed from the nervous system persists even after the tissues have healed.
How is chronic pain different from other pain?
It differs from acute pain, where the pain lasts for a short time (or up to 12 weeks). Chronic pain, on the other hand, lasts for more than 3 months (or beyond an expected normal healing time).
When the pain becomes chronic, the brain and nervous system go on high alert and become more sensitive. The brain continues to interpret all sensations from the body as a threat, which in turn causes you to have more pain. With chronic pain, the pain centers in the brain may be causing you to hurt even though there are no new causes of pain occurring in the body.
How do you know if you have chronic pain?
Chronic pain varies with each individual, but common complaints include: feeling like “everything hurts, everywhere”, sudden stabs of pain, the pain having “a mind of its own”, having symptoms even when you aren’t doing anything, the pain feeling worse when you think about it, it makes you feel more anxious and depressed, and feelings of fatigue & being disinterested in your normal activities.
How can physical therapy treat chronic pain?
Treatment with a physical therapist may have several different components. First and foremost, we want to empower and educate you on how chronic pain occurs and what you can do about it to resume your normal activities again.
A therapist may prescribe flexibility exercises to help you move more easily with less pain, as well as muscle strengthening exercises to help reduce stress and strain on the body.
Manual therapy is a proven physical therapy technique used to address pain and lack of mobility, using hands-on techniques to mobilize tight joints and massage soft tissue to improve range of motion.
We may also need to address postural awareness and body mechanics to help your body move more efficiently while performing activities and while sitting and standing at rest.
A physical therapist can help work with you to educate you on chronic pain, identify ways to improve your quality of life, and get you moving again! Our goal is to help improve movement, teach pain management strategies, and in most cases, reduce the pain itself.