physical therapy

Improve Mobility and Motion Without Surgery

By: Dan Durham, Physical Therapist/Owner

When you’re in pain, you’re open to pretty much any solution that makes you feel better. In most cases, doctors are likely to recommend pain medication or even surgery to cure what ails you.

If you read my last blog, you know how I feel about choosing physical therapy to treat chronic pain instead of using opiates to mask it. If mismanaged, or prescribed unnecessarily, opiate medications can lead to some serious issues, up to and including opiate addiction.

And now, researchers are discovering that physical therapy can be an alternative to surgery that’s just as effective and much less costly.

At its core, physical therapy is all about improving a patient’s mobility and motion. Being able to move pain-free is directly related to your quality of life, your ability to earn a living, pursuing your favorite leisure activities, etc. As we get older, however, our bodies change and don’t move like they used to, especially if we put on weight.

For some, this could prompt a visit to a doctor. If the pain is minor, they might recommend getting on a weight-loss program and exercising more, which is fantastic advice! However, for more chronic pain, doctors might prescribe a pain medication, like an opiate, or surgery, which can be expensive and be followed by a long road of recovery.

In my experience, a solid physical therapy program can be the solution to treating some chronic pain without the surgery. If a surgery can be avoided, wouldn’t that be the best course of action for anybody?

Think of it this way: your body and all of its muscles and joints don’t have extra parts. Everything is there for a reason. Why cut it out if you don’t have to?

How can physical therapy help with chronic pain?

treat chronic pain with physical therapy
A solid physical therapy program can be the solution to treating some chronic pain without the surgery.

Chronic pain (pain that lasts for several months) affects more than 116 million Americans annually. As a physical therapist, it’s my job to help manage my patients’ pain through a series of treatments that focus on:

  • Strength and flexibility
  • Manual therapy
  • Posture awareness
  • Body mechanics

Treatment plans are designed to help you meet your individual goals, challenges, and needs. Abiding by a physical therapy treatment plan allows you to be actively involved in treating your pain. Plus, you will have a partner in your therapist, who will continue to monitor your progress and offer advice to help you maintain optimum health and movement.

What type of chronic pain does physical therapy treat?

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to what PT can help treat. It depends entirely on the patient, what type of pain he/she is experiencing, and how serious the injury is.

Lower back pain is especially common in our area, particularly among our aging population. One such condition, Lumbar Spinal Stenosis, is brought on by a degeneration of the vertebrae, discs, muscles and ligaments that make up the spinal column. Typical symptoms include:

  • Pain in the groin, buttocks and upper thigh that doesn’t move down the leg
  • Pain with standing or walking that feels better when you sit or squat
  • Pain that feels worse when you lead back, and better if you lean forward

A common treatment for Lumbar Spinal Stenosis is an operation called a ‘decompression’ or ‘laminectomy.’ The procedure removes the bone that is pressing on the nerves to help ease the pain. However, a recent study showed that physical therapy can be just as effective as surgery, and came with less of a risk for complications.

The same was found for meniscal tears (one of the most common knee injuries) and osteoarthritis. In the study, researchers discovered that patients who participated in a physical therapy program improved their mobility just as much in six months to a year as those who opted for arthroscopic surgery.

Does physical therapy always work?

In some situations where the chronic pain is too severe or there is significant damage to the area in question, surgery will be necessary. However, physical therapists and the American Physical Therapy Association are working to raise awareness about instances when surgery isn’t necessary.

Bottom line: if your pain is infringing upon your quality of life and you’re considering surgery or medication, consult with a physical therapist first. It doesn’t require a doctor’s referral and you can schedule an appointment yourself.

Our offices in East Liverpool and Austintown are happy to schedule a consultation, and our team of professional physical therapists will offer their recommendation to help you make the best choice for your situation.