The role of physical therapy in chronic pain management

by Specialized Orthopedics September 01, 2023
physical therapy - chronic pain prevention

Pain is a crucial part of our human nature that helps us survive and stay safe. However, the study of pain has moved away from just looking at the body’s structure when dealing with chronic pain. Instead, research is now focused on exploring the complex operations of the nervous system and brain, which are crucial factors in how we feel and experience pain.

In the past, the anatomical model was used to describe pain caused by tissue damage, typically seen during the initial phase of an injury. However, it is important to note that chronic pain is not mainly caused by tissue damage, and as a result, the pain science education field focuses on understanding the functioning of the nervous system and educating patients to understand their symptoms better.

Chronic pain is often caused by the nervous system’s sensitivity and the way the brain processes pain signals, rather than just tissue damage. Think of your nervous system as an alarm system. If it detects danger, the brain sends pain signals throughout the body. After an injury, the nerves become more sensitive as a protective response. This is a natural reaction. For example, if you have a bad sunburn, even a gentle touch on your skin can cause pain because of increased sensitivity. Your nervous system sends an alarm signal to warn you of sunburn and remind you to protect your skin by using sunscreen. As the sunburn heals, the sensitivity of your nerves reduces gradually, resulting in less pain upon touch.

When someone experiences chronic pain, their nerves become stuck in a state of heightened sensitivity. This causes the body to perceive the pain as a threat and trigger the pain alarm. As a result, the brain processes pain signals. However, there are several strategies available to reduce this sensitivity.

When you engage with a physical therapist, they will evaluate your body’s movements and identify the factors that contribute to your pain. It is essential to discuss the triggers of your pain or symptoms in your everyday life during your sessions with a physical therapist. They will create a personalized plan that focuses on the specific areas of your daily activities impacted by pain. This plan may include exercises designed to enhance your strength and flexibility, as well as suggestions for modifications to your daily routines.

Here are ways to manage chronic pain


Studies indicate that raising your heart rate can enhance blood flow and oxygen distribution in your body, which can help ease anxiety. Engaging in brisk walking for just 10 to 20 minutes can be beneficial. It is recommended to gradually increase both walking time and speed. Additionally, other forms of aerobic exercise, such as cycling, using an elliptical machine, swimming, or attending Zumba classes, can also be favorable. Consult your physical therapist to determine the most suitable aerobic exercise for your specific requirements.

Goals/Pace Yourself:

Managing chronic pain requires setting realistic goals and expectations. You may not become completely symptom-free in the first few weeks of physical therapy or lifestyle adjustments. To achieve success, break down your larger goals into smaller, achievable milestones. Setbacks are normal during the healing process, so anticipate them. Increase the duration of activities gradually, beginning with a brief 10-minute period and adding five minutes each time if you feel pain after doing chores.

If you have chronic pain and need more than just advice and tips, contact us at:


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