4 Ways Physical Therapy Helps You Heal

A woman does strengthening exercises with her physical therapist.
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Your lower back started to throb a few weeks ago, and you're not sure why. You can still climb the stairs, but it hurts. You can still bend over, but that hurts even more. If the pain hasn't gone away on its own and its starting to affect your quality of life and daily activities, what's your next step?

Your first reaction might be to see your doctor. While your doctor can find the source of the pain through important diagnostic imaging tests and offer surgical interventions to correct it, there might be a collaborative route to consider.

A physical therapist has a different toolkit, one assembled specifically to manage pain by helping your body heal and get back to the most optimal strength, balance and function. Physical therapists are one of the best front-line providers for pain management and improving movement.

A physical therapist’s expertise and training focus on empowering you to address and correct the root problem. With your physical therapist, you can work to regain your freedom of movement in four unique ways.

Managing Your Pain Without Medications

While traditional means of treating pain certainly have a place in some cases of chronic pain management, physical therapy itself can be a highly effective treatment option.

Treating pain by changing how you move requires an attitude shift. You might initially prefer procedures or medication if you assume the pain will end if your bones or muscles are repaired. However, a procedure might not mean an end to pain.

After all, the link between a physical ailment and pain is not as solid as you might assume. Health conditions that you would consider scary, like arthritis and disc bulges, are quite normal in people without pain. Surgery might not be best option for every pain and ailment.

With back pain, everybody gets a little bit of it at some point in life, even relatively early. For example, degenerative disc disease is a common condition that you might see signs of in your 20s. It’s not an emergency, and often doesn't require anything more than changes in movement and graded exercise — both of which your physical therapist can help you with.

An Exercise Plan Tailored to Your Goals

If you have long-term pain, the underlying injury has likely healed, and the pain is probably coming from an overactive nervous system that needs to be cared for gently. Exercise can help.

Instead of using lab tests and imaging to investigate your health, a physical therapist will ask you what they want to accomplish and help you build an exercise plan from there. For example, your goals may be wanting to lift your grandchildren or walk with friends.

Your physical therapist will meet you where you are and take small steps to form a workout plan and help you achieve your goals. Even if you start with a five-minute walk, every day you can add a minute onto your time.

Reaching your goals may not take as long as you think, either. Many people see significant reductions in their pain within five visits with their physical therapist. Some people come to accept a level of pain that does not interfere with their overall quality of life.

A Partner to Help You Bounce Back From Injury

Physical therapists often work with people who have only recently started experiencing pain. Physical therapists are well-suited to treat sudden injuries, as they provide appropriate movement and reassurance during this painful phase of recovery.

The first goal, especially for back pain, is to ensure that the problem isn't another condition masquerading as muscular or skeletal pain.

As physical therapy increasingly becomes a first choice for many people, its practitioners have become more adept at identifying pain’s source. If a physical therapist believes your pain is coming from an ailment of the kidney, bladder or other organ, he or she is likely to refer you to a doctor for further investigation.

Physical therapists know that recovery is a process; follow-up treatment of an injury can be just as important as initial care. Follow-up should include one or two visits a week for at least a few weeks. Your physical therapist will want to ensure that you're healing as expected, and if getting back to normal is slow, they’ll help you figure out why.

Education for the Long-Term

Many physical therapists schedule initial visits for an hour. Longer visits mean more time to establish a relationship and get to the bottom of your concerns, as well as thoroughly screen for diseases and illness outside the scope of physical therapy.

Even when it originates from a muscle or bone, pain is often about more than physical ailments. For example, you can work with a nutritionist to build a diet that makes it easier to exercise and control weight. Depression can also worsen pain, and your physical therapist may be able to provide a recommendation for mental health treatment.

If you’re seeing your physical therapist before you see a doctor, your physical therapist should be able to guide you to the resources you need throughout a wider network of care.

One of the benefits of learning about your body means you can take steps to heal at home or even at work. If you have a desk job, you can get your blood flowing at work by:

  • Placing your water bottle where you have to walk to get it
  • Taking a brief walk at lunchtime
  • Taking a five-minute stretching break for your chest, back and shoulders
  • Trying mid-back exercises with a resistance band while seated

Your body will feel better when you take the time to move in little ways. That said, it’s no replacement for routine cardiovascular exercise. Doing a basic cardiovascular routine three to five times a week will help you feel healthier and stronger over time.

Helping You Feel Whole in Body, Mind and Spirit

Ultimately, a visit to a physical therapist is an opportunity to take control of your health for the better. At AdventHealth, we’re here to help you not only eliminate pain, but feel whole in as many ways as possible.

Our licensed physical therapists have the experience to help you tackle your aches and pains head on. Learn more about working with a physical therapist in a sports medicine and rehab program today.

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