News & Events

Ask The Medical Expert: More gain than pain with physical therapy

July 6, 2016


By Eric O'Brien Special to The Review Published: July 6, 2016 3:00 AM

Editor's note: The following column is an interactive question-and-answer feature appearing the first Wednesday of each month. Readers are encouraged to send health-related questions that will be answered by a local medical professional to info@achosp.or. Today's question is being answered by Eric O'Brien, PT, MS, OCS, board certified clinical specialist at Alliance Community Hospital.

Q. My physician wants me to go to physical therapy, but my friends say it will hurt? -- Cynthia C., Canton

A. Let me start by stating that I personally do not know any physical therapist who enjoys seeing patients in pain.

All of the therapists I know take great personal satisfaction in improving our patients' lives and would never want to cause increased pain to any patient. A typical reason a physician might refer you to physical therapy is to help work away the pain you might already have. While it might not seem so at the time, the best way to combat the pain most patients fear is to continue to move and exercise.

Through the use of exercise and modalities such as electrical muscle stimulation and ice, physical therapists are able to minimize your pain and improve your function to get you back to the activities you enjoy.

A physical therapist's main skill is the creation of a customized treatment plan that encompasses exercises and modalities best suited to each individual patient. Unfortunately, not keeping up with these exercises at home after the initial visit can prolong a patient's pain and is usually the main reason patients do not progress.

The important thing to understand is the difference between pain and muscle soreness.

Pain occurs because of injury to the body and is part of the normal healing process. In most normal circumstances, this pain will subside as our patients leave their injuries or surgeries behind them.

The issue faced by physical therapists is the expectation of how much pain you might have to tolerate while you progress. I think that the public has come to believe that you should experience no pain after surgery or injury, when in fact it is part of the injury.

Medication can help cope with this initial pain. Successful use of medication can result in a decrease in pain up to 30 percent. However, muscle soreness, like the kind a patient can expect to experience in physical therapy, is more related to preforming a new activity that the body is not quite accustomed to. This is the soreness that most people feel on Jan. 3 after starting on their New Year's resolutions.

Muscle soreness can last up to 72 hours which reinforces that you are making a positive change in your body.

Throughout all treatments it is important to be open and honest with your physical therapist about what kind and the level of pain you are experiencing as you and your physical therapist work together to get you back to normal. A trained physical therapist can discern the difference between the pain patients have come to fear and the muscle soreness associated with progress.

Hopefully this answers your question and alleviates any fear you might have about coming to see us for physical therapy.


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