Pain vs. PT

When you think of PT, what comes to mind? One common response in which I have encountered are thoughts of fear or pain. This is an expectation that I fight on a daily basis. The perception that PT is painful is justified in some circumstances; however,do I think that therapy causes people pain? Absolutely not, and I’ll tell you why. Therapy is typically prescribed when you are injured or following a surgery such as a joint replacement. Oftentimes there is inherent pain with any type of movement when injured or following surgery. Your natural reaction to pain will be to protect the area and avoid movement. Sometimes that is the right thing to do, and sometimes it prolongs healing.

Yes, you are likely experiencing pain when you see a physical therapist. However, 9 times out of 10, my patient’s leave with less pain than when they arrived. Why is this the case? It is important as a PT to show you that your pain can improve AND that you can return to normal movement. Pain is complex and can oftentimes be affected by your perception of yourself and the injury. Someone who is optimistic about their recovery and feeling positive about themselves will likely improve faster than someone who thinks that their pain will never improve and that they will never return to their prior level

Say for example you wake up in the morning with shoulder pain. Your body’s natural response will be to avoid movement of that shoulder. You go on with your day and you realize that your neck is starting to hurt. Days go by, your shoulder still hurts and now you realize that you’re starting to get a headache. You’re probably thinking..what’s going on??

This is a common phenomenon that occurs with musculoskeletal injuries. Your shoulder hurting led to abnormal movement or lack of movement of that arm. Many of the muscles of the shoulder attach to the neck. It is common for neck muscle/joint dysfunction to cause headaches. My job as a physical therapist is to determine the cause of the problem, whether it be from muscle or nerve dysfunction in the shoulder or problems in other areas. Once the source of the pain is determined, the goal is to get your shoulder moving as well or better than it was before you started having pain. If I can return your shoulder to normal, its likely that your neck pain and headaches will disappear.

You will likely be in pain before you arrive, or you wouldn’t be coming to PT. Range of motion exercises, hands-on techniques and strength training is likely to be included in your session. Any sharp or severe pain should be avoided, as this increases the sensitivity of the nervous system and only increases your pain. However as I’ve previously stated, you are more than likely to leave in less pain than when you arrived.

So, is physical therapy painful? You should not have any significant increase in pain during the session or the activity will likely be stopped, and you will more than likely leave in less pain than when you arrived. Don’t let negative stereotypes keep you from feeling better.