Pain awareness month: physical therapy’s role in pain management and resolution

Published - Sep 08, 2021

Pain awareness month: Physical therapy’s role in pain management and resolution

Clinically reviewed by Darren Crout, PTA, TPI Cert.

As of 2021, the most common cause of disability in the United States is pain. As a serious public health and economic issue, the American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA) recognizes the month of September as Pain Awareness Month, shedding a light on the one in three people that are personally affected by pain.

There are two major subgroups of pain: acute and chronic. Physical therapy plays an important role in the treatment of both.

What is acute pain?

Acute pain is defined by the Cleveland Clinic as pain that comes on suddenly and that is caused by something specific, such as a surgery, a broken bone, childbirth or a strained muscle. This type of pain goes away when the underlying cause has been resolved.

How is physical therapy used to treat acute pain?

According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), physical therapists will work to identify an injured tissue and develop an individualized treatment plan to facilitate healing at the site of pain. Physical therapists are qualified to offer guidance regarding a safe return to one’s normal activities and ensure that adequate healing has taken place prior to doing so. Treatment plans often include functional exercises to strengthen muscles as well as manual therapy and stretching to aid in injury recovery.

What is chronic pain?

Causes of chronic pain vastly differ from those of acute pain. Chronic pain lasts longer than three months and can affect the musculoskeletal system, the nervous system and various organ systems, according to Stanford Medicine. Long-term medical conditions are often associated with chronic pain, including cancer, osteoarthritis, scoliosis, fibromyalgia, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. Other lifestyle factors that can contribute to the development of chronic pain include improper bending and lifting techniques, poor posture, and being overweight. The ACPA estimates that approximately 50 million Americans suffer from some form of chronic pain.

How is physical therapy used to treat chronic pain?

Chronic pain is complex. As such, physical therapists will often use a combination of techniques to manage a patient’s pain, including manual therapy, exercise, and ice, heat or electrical stimulation, as stated by the APTA. Additionally, physical therapists will work to determine factors that may be worsening pain, such as incorrect movement patterns and sites of muscle weakness. Regular physical therapy can greatly contribute to an increased quality of life for an individual navigating chronic pain.

Whether acute or chronic, it is important to note that living with pain is not normal and is an issue that can be addressed. Therapists at IRG Physical & Hand Therapy are qualified to work with all individuals to identify, treat and manage the many causes of pain. Click here to request an appointment with an IRG therapist; Washington is a direct access state that allows patients to self-refer to physical therapy. Call (425) 316-8046 to learn more about starting the journey back to your best self.