We’ve all experienced back pain at some point in our lives. And if you have not, you probably will as the natural incidence of back pain is 80%! At one time or another, we all will feel that aching back, or maybe a painful leg with sciatica or a sore neck, a painful knee or a “trick” shoulder! You get the point, pain in the body is a part of life and dealing effectively with pain is something we all must learn to do.

When does pain become problematic and chronic? You have probably heard terms like chronic inflammation, arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic pain, or chronic pain syndrome, fibromyalgia and persistent pain syndrome. These terms refer to a body that hurts often and sometimes intensely over time. Arthritis can be a cause of chronic joint pain and chronic inflammation when not treated properly. The main reason many people attend physical therapy at Life’s Work is relief of these chronic pains. When you’ve had a pain that has lasted a long time or an injury that brings you episodic pain, we refer to your case as a complex case. The pain is only part of the story. Let’s examine what chronic pain means and how to best treat the causes of chronic pain and other conditions so that you can keep doing what you want for as long as possible with the least amount of pain or discomfort.

For starters, the term chronic refers to a body pain or injury that hurts beyond the normal healing cycle. In the absence of disease, a body should heal from injury in about 100 days. During that 100 day cycle, your body is slowly growing new cells to repair the injured area. At the very beginning of injury healing, it can be quite painful due to the inflammation or swelling. As time goes on, the inflammation should abate, creating less pain, and better ease with movement and activity. If this is not happening and the pain is persistent, then the body is having difficulty healing and chronically involved. What is the best way to treat chronic pain?

The very first step when something is hurting you whether it’s a painful back, neck, headache, sciatica, or just overall body aches and pains is to contact your physical therapist. Establish a lifelong relationship with your physical therapist so that he or she can take care of you through your body’s orthopedic life cycle. Pains will come and go and your physical therapist is specifically trained to identify the root cause of painful conditions and outline a detailed plan to assist your body in its healing and in healthy aging. These are the questions that you and your Life’s Work Physical Therapist need to answer to get your body back on track and out of chronic pain:

  • How long has your “back” been painful or sore? Is it chronic?
  • When are you hurting?
  • What makes you feel worse and what makes you feel relief?
  • In what ways does this pain limit you?
  • How to you best cope with this pain?
  • What are currently doing to manage it?

In a detailed physical examination, a physical therapist can help identify if the chronic pain is coming from one of your joints (the moving parts of the body), a muscle, a ligament, a tendon, a disc, or other soft tissues. In fibromyalgia, for example, many patients have diffuse pain from tender points located in the soft tissues and muscles of the body. When left untreated, these tender points become chronically painful. In chronic pain situations, patients can also develop a condition where the nervous system (brain and nerves) become highly sensitized, thereby making the body more sensitive to pain. Chronic pain takes time and expertise to fully evaluate and treat.

With a detailed physical therapy plan, you can feel better, move better and get back to life. When you and your physical therapist start to identify the why behind all the pain, your plan will address these triggers and get you back on track!