Pain Management in Physical Therapy

Methods Your Physical Therapist Uses to Manage Your Pain

If you have an injury or illness that causes pain and loss of functional mobility, then you may benefit from the skilled services of a physical therapist.  Your physical therapist can assess your specific problem and offer solutions to help improve your strength, range of motion, and mobility.

Your physical therapist is also trained to help decrease the pain that you are feeling.  He or she can use specific therapeutic modalities, treatment techniques, or exercises to help you manage your pain.  Here is a list of the ways that your physical therapist can help decrease your pain to help you get back to your previous level of mobility.



One of your main tools to effectively relieve pain is by using exercise.  If you have back pain, your physical therapist can prescribe specific exercises to help treat your pain.  Knee, hip, and shoulder pain also can be treated effectively with exercises.  Your physical therapist can help determine the correct exercises for you to do for your specific condition.

Exercise can decrease pain by improving the way your muscles contract, improving your flexibility, and by releasing endorphins, those chemicals that give you a euphoric feeling after vigorous activity.

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Physical Therapy Ultrasound and EStim Unit. Brett Sears, 2011

A certain type of electrical stimulation called transcutaneous electrical neuromuscular stimulation (TENS) is often used to help treat both chronic and acute pain.  It is applied to your body with two or four electrodes that provide electrical impulses to your body.  These impulses help to decrease pain after injury.

A word of caution about TENS: some studies show that TENS isn't the most effective treatment for some musculoskeletal conditions.  It is a passive modality and should be used in conjunction with other active physical therapy treatments and exercises.

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Kinesiology Tape

Kinesiology tape is a relatively new treatment used in physical therapy and sports medicine.  It is a flexible adhesive tape that is applied to the body to help inhibit muscle spasm and improve muscle contractions.

Kinesiology tape can also be used to help decrease pain that you are feeling.  The mechanism of action for this remains unknown, but one theory is that the tape helps to lift your skin and tissues off of injured muscles, tendons, and ligaments.  This lifting helps to decrease pain and improve circulation to your injured body part. 

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Your physical therapist is trained to perform specific massage techniques to help decrease your pain.  Increased circulation and decreased muscle tension can help to decrease the pain that you are feeling after injury.

Cold Packs

After an injury, ice can be used to help decrease pain and swelling.  Ice should be used for the first 2 to 3 days after an acute injury, but it can also be used whenever you are feeling pain.

Your physical therapist can teach you how to make your own ice pack for home use, and he or she can also make sure you use ice properly to prevent damage to your skin.

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Hot Packs

Therapeutic heat can be a soothing way to help treat pain.  The heat applied by your physical therapist is typically moist heat, and it can help increase circulation, decrease muscle tension and spasm, and decrease pain that you are feeling.

If you are using heat to help decrease pain, be sure you protect your skin properly and prevent superficial burns to your skin.

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The brace can be worn during the leg raise to help minimize stress to your knee.. Brett Sears, PT 2013

Sometimes, the pain that you may be feeling is best treated by limiting the amount of motion around a specific joint.  For example, if you have knee pain and your PT feels that your kneecap is moving out of place, he or she may recommend a brace to help control the position of your knee.

If you have dislocated your shoulder or sprained your ankle, your physical therapist can recommend the proper brace to help stabilize your body and relieve your pain.

Remember, bracing is often temporary, and your PT will help you determine when it is time to stop using your brace.  The P.O.L.I.C.E. acronym for injury healing is a good method to use to help protect an injury while still maintaining an appropriate amount of mobility around your injury.

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Motivation and Encouragment

After an injury or illness that causes pain or functional mobility issues, you may be feeling depressed or anxious about your situation.  These feelings are natural, and they may make your pain feel more intense.

Motivation and encouragement from your physical therapist can help you stay focused on your rehabilitation, and a little push from your PT (or another source of motivation) from time to time may help get you up and moving and help decrease your pain.

If you are dealing with pain after injury or illness, your physical therapist can use several techniques to help decrease your pain and improve your overall mobility.  By effectively managing your pain, you can be sure to quickly get back to your normal activity and lifestyle.

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