Benefits of Early Intervention
Seeking physical therapy soon after your pain begins not only helps eliminate the pain sooner, it can also save you a lot of money. Studies show an average savings of $2,736 when an individual seeks physical therapy within 14 days of onset of low back pain. The money saved is due to decreases in spending on advanced imaging (i.e. MRI), additional physician visits, surgery, injections (i.e. epidurals), and opioid medications. On top of saving money, you also save yourself time and agony. Another study saw better outcomes when patients sought out physical therapy within 6 weeks of onset of pain. The categories of improved outcomes included disability, general health, social function, mental health, vitality, anxiety, and depression. They also decreased the likelihood of the pain becoming chronic. Would you rather have low back pain for a couple months or a couple years? There aren’t many benefits for “toughing it out.” In fact, the longer you wait, the more difficult your pain could be to treat.
Our bodies interpret pain in a very predictable fashion when the pain is acute. When you burn your hand on a hot stove, the pain sensors in your hand send pain signals to your brain and you experience the burning sensation. When you pull a muscle in your back or pinch a nerve, the same thing happens. The mechanism for the severity of pain you experience and your irritability is a little more complex, but the bottom line is you experience pain because you stimulated peripheral pain sensors. This is not the case when you have chronic pain. Your brain starts to interpret pain and certain movements differently. Your brain becomes hypersensitive and you start to anticipate pain with movements your brain associates with pain because of past events. The pain science becomes a lot more muddled at this point. What we know with absolute certainty; it becomes more difficult and takes a lot longer to treat once the pain becomes chronic.
The brain isn’t the only part of the body affected by chronic pain. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “use it or you will lose it.” This applies to more than just playing your favorite musical instrument. When you have pain, your body doesn’t like to reproduce that pain, which is often done through movement. So what does your body tend to do then? You guessed it, not use the painful body parts. Your muscles unfortunately will start to atrophy (shrink and weaken), your ligaments and tendons will weaken, you will develop poor movement patterns, and slip into overall poorer health. Your body is meant to move. Your bones need weight bearing, your joints need movements, your muscles need tension, your heart needs to be worked, etc. The thought “I’ll just rest it until the pain goes away” isn’t the best option for the health of your body. Just because the pain is gone, doesn’t mean your body is in a state of good health. The area that was injured requires full rehabilitation to ensure the dysfunction is not only completely gone, but the likelihood of it returning is significantly decreased.
Now it’s time for the million-dollar question, “How do I fix the problem?” There is a simple answer, go see your local physical therapist. They will guide you through the appropriate treatment. Physical therapy will address the root cause of the problem, not just give you a Band-Aid to make the pain go away.
Let’s take low back pain for an example. There are many different presentations and causes of low back pain, but the overall treatment will be similar. The main differences will pertain to certain manual therapy techniques and types of exercise based on the cause of the symptoms. However they all have the same goal, to get you moving and improve the health of the dysfunctional tissue. Physical therapy is more than slapping on an electrical-stimulation unit and ice pack then being given a home exercise program. That routine is just another fancy Band-Aid that won’t last. You will have to put in the work while in therapy, but it will be worth it. Make sure you find the right physical therapist that will see the problem through until the end.
Have you made your PT appointment yet?
If it hurts, please don’t pop a couple pain meds and try resting until the pain goes away. That won’t fix the issue at hand, instead it will cost you time, money, and pain. Have it looked at by a physical therapist to ensure you fully address the cause of the pain. A PT Solutions physical therapist will be able to enlighten you on the cause of the pain and how to fix the dysfunction. They will be able to guide you through proper exercise, provide appropriate manual therapy, and educate you on methods you can use for rehabilitation and prevention of future injury (through exercise, nutrition, sleep, etc.) Take action early and keep yourself healthy.