Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation

If you have a condition associated with chronic pain, such as fibromyalgia or low back pain, it may seem strange that doing something active—like physical therapy—can actually help alleviate your pain. But certain physical therapy and rehabilitation techniques can actually help you achieve a healthier and more active lifestyle.

With physical therapy, a physical therapist can help you improve your range of motion and your quality of life by creating a personalized, comprehensive treatment plan to reduce your pain and other symptoms.

To determine your treatment plan, the physical therapist will perform a physical exam to assess your condition and the severity of your pain. He or she will also ask about your treatment goals and will work to help you learn how to cope with your pain.

An effective physical therapy treatment plan is one that includes both active and passive treatments. With passive treatments, you don't have to actively participate in the treatment, but you do learn to relax your body.

Most physical therapy programs start off with passive treatments but they’ll slowly progress to active treatments. With active treatments, you’ll learn beneficial exercises to help strengthen your muscles and deal with your pain and other symptoms.

Passive Physical Therapy Treatments

  • Deep tissue massage: You may think that only massage therapists give massages, but physical therapists do them, too. Deep tissue massage specifically targets muscle tension caused by strains or sprains or from something more serious. The physical therapist uses pressure to release tension in your muscles and other soft tissues.
  • Hot and cold therapies: Depending on your condition, the physical therapist will alternate between hot and cold therapies. Heat therapy increases blood flow and brings more oxygen and nutrients to the target area, while cold therapy slows circulation, helping to reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS): A TENS machine safely stimulates your muscles at different intensities of electrical current. This therapy can reduce muscle spasms, and it also may increase production of endorphins—your body's feel-good hormones.
  • Ultrasound: Ultrasound can help reduce swelling, stiffness, and pain by increasing blood circulation. It creates a gentle heat that enhances circulation by sending sound waves deep into your muscle tissues.

Passive treatments, such as those mentioned above, are generally done with active therapies. For active treatments, your physical therapist will teach you an assortment of exercises to fit your needs, particularly to help improve your range of motion, flexibility, and strength.

Also, keep your posture in mind: Along with your personalized physical therapy treatment plan, a physical therapist will teach you how to properly sit and stand. Applying these small healthy habits can result in major benefits—they'll help you take better care of your body.

For maximum relief from chronic pain and other symptoms, you may need to incorporate a variety of physical therapy and rehabilitation techniques into your daily life.

Updated on: 05/19/15