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What to Know About Physical Therapy for Pain Management

What to Know About Physical Therapy for Pain Management

When you’re experiencing pain, there’s no doubt you’re on the search for a way to feel better. And you’re not alone: Roughly 20 percent of the population experience chronic pain, according to the CDC, with the National Institutes of Health calling it a “silent epidemic.”

“The prevalence of chronic pain and the increasing use of opioids—which have led to addiction and fatalities—have led to increased efforts to address chronic pain in other ways,” explains Ben Gilbert, PT, MS, MBA, OCS, Cert. MDT, Director, Outpatient Rehabilitation, Main Campus at Burke Rehabilitation Hospital. One of those ways: physical therapy. “Physical therapy (PT) has become a recommended part of a ‘blended approach’ to dealing with this problem.”

He explains: “Physical therapy is one of the best and safest choices you can make when you have long-term pain (also called chronic pain). It can make you stronger, more flexible, and help you move and feel better without costly surgery or excessive pain medicines.”

A physical therapist can also help you get to the source of the pain. “Therapists will look for areas of weakness or stiffness that may be adding stress to the places that hurt—and they will treat those areas with certain manual techniques, modalities and exercises to ease pain and help you move better. By treating the pain at its source, physical therapy can prevent recurrence better than merely treating the symptoms.”

If you’re considering physical therapy for pain management—or it has been suggested by your physician—here are some important things to know:

Physicians regularly recommend PT—and research shows benefits. As the statistics indicate, chronic pain is a big problem—and doctors are taking note of PT as an option. “Pain has become a common reason for referral for PTs from primary care physicians, along with specialists,” explains Gilbert. And there is research to prove this has benefited patients, he says, citing a study published in Health Services Research. From an article about the study in PT in Motion: “Patients with [lower back pain] who received care from a PT first experienced lower out-of-pocket, pharmacy and outpatient costs after 1 year and reduced their likelihood of receiving an opioid prescription by 87% compared with patients who never visited a PT. The PT-first group also was associated with a 28% lower probability of having imaging services and 15% lower odds of making a visit to an emergency department.”