Chronic pain. It can last for at least three months – or, heaven forbid, permanently. Chronic pain can easily be intense enough to interfere with someone’s professional and social life, as well as their duties as a caregiver. Up to 85% of people with chronic pain also experience severe depression. Approximately 35% have anxiety disorders. Between 50 and 90% report difficulty sleeping as well.

If you suffer from chronic pain, then you’re not alone. An estimated 20.9% of American adults have it. It’s common because so many conditions can cause it, including cancer, arthritis, migraine and fibromyalgia. Orthopedic injuries, which include dislocations, sprains, fractures and broken bones, frequently cause chronic pain as well.

What Treatments Are Available for Chronic Pain?

You don’t want any pain – least of all pain that doesn’t go away. So what can you do? Surgical treatments are available, although you don’t relish the thought of going under the knife, enduring a long recovery period, and possibly coming out no better for it. Opioid painkillers are also an option, albeit one with a long list of side effects. You also wouldn’t like to become one of the 5% of Americans who have become addicted to opioids.

Fortunately, there is a nonsurgical and drug-free treatment available for chronic pain: physical therapy, which was specifically developed to address illnesses and injuries that could limit a person’s ability to function in their day-to-day life.

How Does Physical Therapy Treat Chronic Pain?

The goal of physical therapy isn’t to mask pain. It is to identify the underlying source of pain, and then address it through targeted therapies which restore normal functionality of the patient’s muscles, nerves and joints.

The best course of physical therapy depends entirely on the patient’s unique health needs. Treatment for a 32-year-old farmer who herniated a disc in their lower back while capturing a runaway pig may look completely different from treatment for a 72-year-old grandmother who fractured her hip after slipping and falling on ice.

That said, physical therapy commonly includes the following modalities:

  • Exercise – Aerobic training, resistance training and stretching all excel at strengthening the muscles that stabilize joints, which in turn lessens the amount of stress they’re subjected to during regular movement. Several technologies, such as the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill, make exercise more accessible to those who are advanced in age or recovering from recent surgery or injury.

  • Ultrasound – It’s not just for taking a first look at babies! Gentle sound waves also excel at promoting freer movement of lymph – the fluid which transports nutrients and white blood cells throughout the body. Lymph supplies precisely what damaged soft tissues require in order to heal naturally.

  • Electrical stimulation – When it is applied judiciously, gentle electrical current can have manifold benefits including reduced inflammation, stronger muscles and decreased perception of pain. Electrical stimulation (e-stim) is often prescribed for low back pain, tendonitis and post-surgical pain.

  • Astym – Augmented soft tissue mobilization (Astym) involves the use of specialized tools to achieve two purposes: stimulating soft tissues’ innate healing abilities, and strengthening muscles so they can acclimate to stress without signaling pain. In addition to alleviating pain, Astym can accelerate recovery from acute and chronic injuries alike.

  • Trigger point dry needling – Trigger points are defined as “discrete, focal, hyperirritable spots located in a taut band of skeletal muscle.” Their chief symptom is pain, although they may also manifest as headache and decreased range of motion. Trigger point dry needling is an aptly named therapy: the patient’s trigger points are skewered and released with the tips of solid, non-hypodermic needles.

  • Manual therapy – Manual therapy is a hands-on technique practiced by many chiropractors, although physical therapists commonly use it as well. It revolves around manipulating soft tissues, joints and nerves so as to reduce muscle tension, improve mobility and enhance the body’s natural regenerative abilities. Manual therapy includes several different techniques such as joint mobilization, myofascial release, and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation.

These are only a few of many physical therapy modalities that have been shown to dramatically decrease patients’ perception of pain. But remember: masking pain is not the goal of physical therapy. It is to restore healthy functionality of the body, which just so happens to induce significant relief from pain as well. It’s a much nicer side effect than you could expect from taking opioids!

If you are suffering from chronic pain – for any reason – then Acucare Physical Therapy is standing by to help. We welcome you to contact our clinic in Sioux Falls, SD today to schedule your initial consultation. Our team will tailor the best physical therapy regimen for your unique health needs and goals!