Pain is the most common reason for seeking medical care. It is also the most common reason why people choose our physical therapy practice for help. If you are considering physical therapy for pain, this information can help.
Acute, Subacute, and Chronic Pain
Acute pain is common with tissue damage that may occur with recent injury, such as a muscle or tendon strain, or inflammation within a joint.
Subacute pain is pain that lasts for 3 to 6 months. Subacute pain is common with more complex conditions where there is prolonged healing (joint replacements and the pain associated with the recovery after surgery).
Chronic pain is pain lasting for more than 6 months. While the body's musculoskeletal tissues may heal from an initial injury or degenerative change, pain may persist for months or years after the tissue healing process. Nearly 50 million American adults have significant chronic pain or severe pain, according to a new study prepared by National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH)1.<
The great news is that our specially trained physical therapists can help you understand these factors and improve, even get rid of your pain.
What is Pain?
"Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience that is associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in such terms." according to the International Association for the Study of Pain. In other words, pain is not always simply a response to damaged tissue, there's much more to it.
Pain is a combination of numerous factors that result in a conscious experience that demands your attention. Below is a list of some of the factors that often contribute to the perception of pain.
- Injury & inflammation - tissue damage itself, stimulates nerves that work through the spinal cord and may be perceived as pain.
- Neurophysiology - the way the nervous system works, the body's threat sensors, how they interact at your spinal cord, and the pattern of activity (pain neuromatrix), can all impact your perception of pain. Your brain also has an internal medicine cabinet that can release some of the most powerful drugs known to help minimize pain. These are called endorphins & enkephalins.
- Pain Experience - your perception of pain. There is good pain and bad pain. Your past experiences with pain play a role in how you experience it today.
- Helpful vs. Harmful Words - improper use of diagnoses, terms, diagnostic test results, and communications with patients can be harmful. For example, MRI results showing a bulging disc or degenerative changes may not fully explain your back pain; imaging does not show the whole picture, and is not an effective way to determine the cause of pain.
- Knowledge About Pain - understanding that pain is complex and much more than just damaged muscle, tendon, ligament, or joint tissue can help relieve the pain. Ask your physical therapist to learn more about this.
- Avoidance of Movement - pulling back because of pain or fear of pain
- Deconditioning - with fear and avoidance, your body can get out of shape; movements that usually don't cause pain or fatigue, can start to cause pain.
- Emotions - emotions can change how we experience pain. Negative ones (ie: sadness, anger) is associated with amplification of pain sensations. On the other hand, positive emotions (ie: gratitude, amusement) can decrease pain perception.
- Hormones - certain hormones can decrease or in some cases increase your perception of pain. Hormones like adrenaline and cortisol have been shown to increase pain
- Stress - family, financial, and work stress all play a role in the perception of pain.
- Contributing Health Conditions – anxiety & depression both can factor into chronic pain
- Sleep Habits - proper sleep habits can help with the perception of pain.
- Nutrition - eating the proper foods can positively impact pain
The Principles of Chronic Pain Treatment
New ideas studied by pain scientists suggest that there are four basic components to the successful treatment of pain.
- Pain education - pain neuroscience education (PNE) or therapeutic neuroscience education (TNE) helps patients understand that pain is an output from the brain, it's complex, and not just in your head.
- Exercise - numerous scientific studies have demonstrated that paced & graded exercise can have an extremely positive impact on pain.
- Sleep Health - addressing sleep issues can also decrease pain
- Goal Setting - it took months, even years for your body and brain to experience the chronic pain. Setting specific, reasonable, and progressive goals are part of a successful chronic pain treatment program.
We've Only Scratched the Surface of All the Great Treatments Our Therapists Can Provide!
If you have chronic pain, we encourage you to set up an appointment with one of our physical therapists. We will take a thorough health history, perform a physical exam, create a custom program for you and help put you back on the road to recovery.
Please contact us at (707) 542-5400 for more information or to schedule an appointment. We will be happy to answer any questions you may have about Physical Therapy and the services we provide.