Physical Therapy and Pain Management

Physical Therapy and Pain Management

According to the World Health Organization, 55% of people live with muscle pain. Musculoskeletal injuries and pain end up limiting and hindering individuals in their activities of daily living (ADLs). Pain often means that there is something wrong with the body and the body is looking for a way to protect itself. There may also be psychological pain from some previous trauma. This is the case of kinesiophobia, in which the patient is afraid to move so as not to generate pain and this usually occurs because the patient has had a previous experience of pain.

The treatment of chronic pain is carried out by a multidisciplinary team, which also involves physical therapists. Pain is a common condition and the main therapeutic goals of physical therapists are to reduce pain and associated disability, improve motor function and promote health and well-being in daily life.

Causes of pain

Pain can occur due to an almost endless variety of causes, but it arises, above all, after diseases and medical conditions such as trauma, surgery, inflammation, infections, tumors, burns, among others. The most severe are often those involving the nervous system, such as neuropathies.

Many pain conditions occur due to muscle and visceral spasms or dilations, in addition to compression of nerve roots by adjacent structures. Incredibly, it is not uncommon for many individuals to report pain even without an existing pathophysiological cause, possibly for psychological reasons.

How can Physical Therapy contribute to treatment?

Physical therapy is a powerful ally in combating the discomfort and limitations caused by pain. In addition, it is an alternative for the chronic use of analgesic and anti-inflammatory drugs, which, in addition to bringing several side effects, only combat the momentary symptoms, not acting to address and correct the underlying root cause.

Physical therapy treatment is very versatile and may help:

  • improve range of motion
  • enhance gait and balance
  • reduce inflammatory conditions
  • prevent and treat joint deformities
  • maintain or increase muscle strength
  • ensure that daily activities are carried out independently

How can a physical therapist help?

A physical or occupational therapist can work with you to make daily activities less painful, such as walking, driving, cooking, and working. Also, if surgery is part of your treatment plan, you will likely need a physical or occupational therapist to help you get back to your daily tasks.

What Is the Role of Physical Therapy in Pain Management?

A therapist might focus on reducing pain with either passive or active therapy. The following are some examples of passive physical therapy:

  • Heat/ice packs
  • Manual manipulation therapies
  • Dry needling
  • Electrical stimulation, including TENS units
  • Cupping
  • Ultrasound

The following are some examples of active physical therapy:

  • Stretching and range of motion exercises are examples of movement-based activities.
  • Specific strengthening exercises
  • Pain relief exercises
  • Low-impact aerobic conditioning

Use of TENS       

When talking about physical therapy for pain treatment, one will often mention TENS. This is the acronym for ‘Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation.’  The technique consists of using small electrical stimuli on the muscles.  It is mainly recommended for the relief of various types of pain and the reduction of some type of muscle atrophy. Important injuries can also be treated with this method due to the great analgesic effect that it provides.

It is important that your physical therapist is up to date with your other medical treatments, and although you can learn many practices from books and videos, it is essential to consult a professional so that you have the proper guidelines for your case.

If your condition is such that you have a difficult time leaving the home and are in need of professional physical therapy, contact us today.


Retrieved from:

Diana Rodriguez 2010, Physical Therapy for Pain Management.

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