What is Chronic Pain?
Pain that goes away on its own in a few hours, days, or weeks is considered “acute.” When pain does not go away on its own within three to six months, that pain is considered “chronic.” Chronic pain is the most common reason adults seek treatment from a health care professional. It has been linked to limitations in your mobility, dependence on prescription pain medications, poor quality of life, and an increase in anxiety and depression.
Causes of Chronic Pain
The source of most chronic pain is in the musculoskeletal system. This means the majority of chronic pain can be found in the bones, muscles, joints, and connective tissues of the body. The causes of back pain, headaches, joint pain, and nerve pain vary but are most often rooted in one of the following causes:
- Car accidents, workplace injuries, or simple incidents that happen at home can all lead to chronic pain. One study published in the journal Pain found that 21 percent of people who are in a vehicle accident develop chronic widespread pain in the weeks afterward that does not go away on its own. According to OSHA, workplace injuries happened to 2.9 out of every 100 workers in 2016. Seeking physical therapy after an accident can often alleviate pain and help you return to your everyday activities.
- Overuse Injuries
- You don’t have to be a professional athlete to have an overuse injury. The way you walk, work, stand, lift, or exercise can take its toll on your body, causing damage to your muscles and joints, as well as causing chronic pain. Learning how to properly move your body in your daily life can often relieve these symptoms.
- Arthritis, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, shingles, and neuropathy as a result of diabetes can all lead to chronic pain. Usually, pain is treated as a part of the underlying illness, but when it becomes chronic, it must be examined as a condition on its own.
- While surgical repair of a muscle, joint, or connective tissue is supposed to alleviate pain, the procedure alone is often not enough to provide relief. Surgical repair of an area of the body is enough to correct a structural problem, but we often compensate in our movement for the pain we experience. Weeks, months, or even years of compensatory movement often causes additional pain after surgery if the movement is not corrected.
How Physical Therapy Helps Chronic Pain
Most people associate physical therapy with post-operative care. While it does play a vital role in minimizing scar tissue, strengthening the area where the surgery occurred, and minimizing post-surgical pain, physical therapy can also help alleviate chronic pain. Physical therapists are movement experts. These highly trained medical experts can diagnose movement problems as well as their underlying structural causes. Once they have identified areas of the body that are weak, limited in their range of motion, or out of balance, they can address the underlying cause of your chronic pain. A physical therapist will often incorporate manual therapies to increase movement, minimize scar tissue, and limit pain. Targeted exercise can help strengthen the area and stretching can improve balance. Best of all, much of your personalized physical therapy program can be done in the comfort of your own home, in-between office visits.