Physical Therapy: Common
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, rehabilitate athletes, or use that electric stimulation machine. 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.
Most patients come to see me 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 that 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, applies a whole body approach to heal the problem, thereby getting rid of the pain. The intensive physical therapy a person undergoes after a knee or hip surgery is NOT only so that he/she will not be in pain, but so that the root cause of the problem is healed, thereby promoting maintained health. Similar is true for someone suffering from lower back pain: 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 a symptom, not the problem.
Our goal is to provide lasting health, not temporary comfort. That’s why seeing a physical therapy involves a hands-on, thorough evaluation, and recommendations usually for multiple sessions. I see the same thing happening in my practice 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, healing the root cause of the pain, 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. Or when pain returns, it is assumed the physical therapy didn’t work. 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. Unlike pain medicine, 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 a physical therapist actually does:
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
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, active life.
As the holidays approach, my family and I did some cooking baking this weekend. It's become a tradition that we all look forward to, both the baking and the eating of the cookies. When taking break from washing pans and cleaning up frosting from the floor, I came across this cartoon which made me laugh. Not just because I was tired from baking and sore from standing so long. No, this is funny to me because it is what my husband says I went to PT school to learn. "Just put some ice on it."
That might be what he frequently hears from me when says his knees hurt after running. Possibly because he tells me in between making dinner and doing laundry, and I don't have time for the long answer. But the truth is, cold packs or ice can be very helpful for pain and inflammation relief after an initial injury or a challenging work out. High level athletes have learned the benefits of cold therapy after a game or practice, which is why they leave the training rooms with packs of ice wrapped around their knees or shoulders. Ice tubs/ice baths are also popular in training rooms, and you may see them in some gyms now too. But ice can also help us regular people who are sore after starting to exercise again, or standing too long at the festival, or even after lifting a box that was too heavy.
Cold packs will contract blood vessels, significantly reduce inflammation of joints, tendons or muscles, and thus reducing pain. The cold temperature can also slow the nerve activity rate, decrease muscle spasm, and decrease the perceived pain. Cold therapy (formally called cryotherapy) is most effective in the first 48 hours after the strain or injury. By controlling the inflammation initially, you can return to activity sooner and avoid falling into a chronic inflammatory state
Cold or ice can be use in different forms: gel packs, ice packs, ice baths, or ice message. A bag of frozen peas also works just as well. It is most effect used for short periods of time, 10 - 15 minutes, multiple times during the day. It is important not to place ice directly on the skin or leave for longer than 20 minutes to avoid any risks of skin damage.
While some people love to use ice to control pain, it is NOT for everyone. Clients with arthritis often feel very stiff after using ice packs. Diabetics with any type of neuropathy will not tolerate the cold temperatures and will find it very uncomfortable. Ice packs are also not the best option for those with poor circulation.
If you find ice helpful in managing pain and swelling, then great! But if your symptoms continue past 48 hours you need to see a professional for care to avoid any further injury or chronic pain. I promise, I have learned more from PT school and 20 years of practice than "Just put some ice on it!"
We help busy professionals whose activities are limited by pain, get back to enjoying the things they love, even if other treatments have let them down.
Catherine Courtney, PT
Specialist Physical Therapist