Tuesday, February 26, 2019

What is Pain Really?

What is Pain, Really?

As a physical therapist, I deal with pain on a daily basis in one form or another. Back pain, shoulder pain, knee pain, neck pain, ankle pain… they’re all part of my daily experience. Pain is such a common experience for most individuals at some point in their lives, and yet the truth is that so many people don’t know the first thing about what pain actually is. Pain is mysterious, and for many of us, pain is actually completely and utterly confusing. I’d like to shed some light on the darkness, tackling the definition of pain one step at a time.

For most of us, pain is a very common part of our lives. We stub our toe, scrape a knee, or get our finger caught in a door. While it’s certainly uncomfortable, these types of pain aren’t necessarily pointing to a problem. In contrast, prolonged headaches, severe and chronic eye pain, and even toothache, might point to more serious problems. What makes pain such a mystery is that it tends to surface in odd ways, at odd times, and sometimes in completely odd places. And yet, there is an explanation for this: our bodies are telling us that something is wrong, but not necessarily what is wrong.

Let me explain. When we experience pain, our bodies are sending signals to our brain from the area that’s being affected. If you cut your finger, for example, your brain gets told about it and your finger is instantaneously sore. Similarly, if you scrape your knee, or stub your toe, it’s fairly easy to gather information about what happened. But what about when you have chronic back pain, for example? Is it in the spine, the muscle, or the disk? How about if your knee is so sensitive you can no longer walk comfortably? Is it the muscle, or have you done something to the joint itself?

In fact, the body can be extremely odd about sending pain signals. Take a soldier, for example. If he is shot during a skirmish, he may not feel the pain of the entry wound until hours after the battle is over. Why? Because his body decided to delay the pain receptors to the brain so as to keep the soldier alert and responsive when it mattered most. And in many ways our own bodies do the same. How often have you had knee pain that surfaced long after a run during which you twisted your leg? Or, how long after you tripped over the stair did your back start to hurt? Pain can often be delayed, and frustratingly, this postponement often means we forget, or even mask, the cause of the pain.

It is precisely this ambiguous nature of pain that is such a big problem for most of my patients. On a daily basis I hear, “I just don’t know what I did”, or, “I really can’t remember hurting it”. Pain is so frustrating in this way – if you only knew why it’s sore! The truth is, it’s difficult to figure out what your body needs from you – did you pull a muscle, damage the cartilage, or just sit in an odd position? We often can’t know for sure, at least initially.

Unfortunately, then, pain is often not as straightforward as we’d like it to be. One thing remains certain, however: pain indicates a problem. When you cut your finger, the tissue is damaged and your body signals the brain so that something can be done to repair it. In the same way, if your back or knee hurts, something isn’t quite right and the body is trying to tell the brain to repair the damage. In the latter example, it’s just that the answer isn’t as clear. Despite this, though, both scenarios require the painful area to be examined and rehabilitated.

It’s clear to see that pain is a lot like your internal warning system. If it hurts, the chances are that something is wrong. In my clinic, my team and I treat pain as the symptom of an underlying problem. By approaching pain in this way, we make sure to find the root cause of the problem so as to clear up the tenderness and discomfort. Sadly, for many medical professionals, dealing with pain is something that is done back to front. Painkillers and injections are prescribed to mask the pain in the hope that the discomfort will ease in time. In my experience, this just doesn’t work. The way we need to approach pain is NOT as a cause of discomfort, but as a SYMPTOM of a particular problem, whether it’s big or small.

The mystery surrounding ‘pain’ is often exacerbated by the medical industry’s inability to treat the root cause of the problem. Instead, many medical professionals seek to get rid of the pain WITHOUT healing the source of the discomfort. It’s completely counterintuitive. That’s why physical therapy is by far the best way of dealing with gnawing, frustrating, mysterious pain: we find the root cause of the problem, heal it, and ensure that you maintain a pain free, active lifestyle.

We all have to deal with pain in one form or another, but remember, one universal truth remains the same: treat the cause to get rid of the pain. Your body knows exactly what’s best for you, and the greatest thing you can do for it is to give it the benefit of the doubt. A pain free life is possible!  Schedule a phone consult with the physical therapist to find out if physical therapy is right for you.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

PT: Common Misconceptions Debunked

Physical Therapy: Common Misconceptions Debunked

Physical therapy has always been shrouded in mystery, and the truth is many people don’t really know what it is. Some think that physical therapists only stretch muscles, or rehabilitate athletes. Others feel as though physiotherapy is an intense massage, or even just a way to avoid being stiff after a workout. As a physical therapist with many years of experience, I can honestly say that, despite all these conflicting ideas about physical therapy, one thing remains constant: most people believe we heal pain. And yes – we do heal pain, but what most people don’t understand is that physical therapy is NOT only about healing pain… it is about SO much more than that. This may sound controversial, but keep reading.

Most patients come to my clinic wanting nothing more than for the pain to be gone. And that’s something we can all understand – pain is absolutely terrible. But the most common misconception about physical therapy is that ALL physical therapists do is take away the patient’s pain. That just isn’t true.

Let me explain. If all a patient really wanted was for his lower back pain to be gone, or for her knee pain to disappear, then he/she would simply take a painkiller. And in my experience, many of the patients visiting my clinic have ALREADY done that. And the pain is STILL there when they first come to see us. So, getting rid of the pain isn’t the only issue the patient is facing. If pain relief is the only thing that’s required, the painkillers or the injection would have worked… but they haven’t.

The unfortunate truth is, many people see pain as the problem, not the symptom. And it is this precise disconnect that defines what a physical therapist does: physical therapy finds the CAUSE, so as to heal the problem, thereby getting rid of the pain. The intensive physical therapy undergone by an athlete to rehabilitate his leg is NOT only so that he will not be in pain, but so that the root cause of the problem is healed, thereby promoting maintained health. Similar is true for the mother suffering from lower back pain: her physical therapy doesn’t start by healing the pain, but rather tackles the root cause in order to eradicate pain permanently. So, in other words, though physical therapists love to get rid of pain, we do so in a way that treats pain as the cause, not the problem. Our aim is provide lasting health, not temporary comfort.

That having been said, physical therapists therefore do not participate in pain management. That’s right. Physical therapy is about removing pain completely, not just managing it. That’s why seeing a physical therapist is hands-on, thorough, and oftentimes for the duration of a couple of sessions. I see the same thing happening in my clinic all too often, that is, after a session or two with a physical therapist the patients feels great – his/her pain has dissipated, and life is back to normal. The problem is, he/she then stops coming to physical before completing the recommended number of sessions, and the pain returns. 

It is this common scenario, too, which casts physical therapy under a cloud of misunderstanding. As we do not deal with the management of pain so much as the HEALING of the problem, patients often assume that if their pain is gone there is no need for further treatment. The truth is, physical therapy isn’t a painkiller – and thank goodness for that. Though a session or two might ease the pain, it’s imperative to continue seeing a physical therapist for the suggested duration of your treatment in order to attain PERMANENT health and a pain free life. Physical therapy is the most effective way of healing the CAUSE, and the happy truth is that, along the way, the pain will dissipate.

So, based on the above, here are some things that physical therapist actually do:

·      We make sure that we treat the root cause of the problem, rather than the symptom of the problem. 

·      By treating the root cause, we get rid of pain in a way that is sustainable and healthy.

       We continue treatment UNTIL THE PROBLEM IS SOLVED, even if that means the patient no longer feels discomfort a few session into the treatment. We love to help people, and we do not want to see our patients experience the same pain later on.

     We tailor-make a plan to suit you: we give you stretches, advice, fitness routine, and so much more – all this so that you are capable of MAINTAINING a pain free life.

     We give you the best possible chance of achieving a sustained, permanent pain free life.

      We keep you out of the doctor’s office and away from the painkillers: we treat the ROOT CAUSE, not the symptom.

·    We do not treat pain, but rather ensure that the easing of pain is a byproduct of treating the root cause of the problem.

Physical therapy is, of course, useful for eradicating pain. But, the truth is, a common misconception lies is precisely HOW we do that. We do not offer temporary solutions to a permanent problem, rather we tackle the root cause of the problem so as to heal the patiently effectively.

So, there you have it: the most common misconception about physical therapy, namely, that physical therapist only treat pain. We do so much more than that, and with the proper, hands-on, unique treatment that physical therapy provides, a patient who does the required sessions, and commits to the therapy prescription, will ultimately maintain a pain free, active life. Stop the painkillers, stop the injections, and stop the visits to the physician: physical therapy is by far the most effective way to achieve and MAINTAIN a pain free life, healthily.  For more information, schedule a phone consult with one of our physical therapists who specialize in helping working, active adults get back to the workouts and sports they love.