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Chronic pain is a condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It occurs when the brain interprets signals from the body as a threat to a person's well-being, even in the absence of actual tissue damage. Chronic pain can have a significant impact on a person's quality of life, and it is estimated that 116 million Americans suffer from this condition each year, with the cost of medical treatment, lost work time, and lost wages amounting to $560-$635 billion annually in the United States alone.

While any condition can lead to chronic pain, certain medical conditions are more likely to cause it, such as trauma/injury, diabetes mellitus, fibromyalgia, limb amputation, reflex sympathetic dystrophy, cancer, and arthritis. Chronic pain affects each person differently and can lead to decreased activity levels, job loss, financial difficulties, anxiety, depression, and disability. However, physical therapists work with chronic pain patients to reduce their pain and restore their activity levels to the highest possible degree. With treatment, the negative effects of chronic pain can be minimized.

What Is Chronic Pain?

Pain is an unpleasant sensation that we usually associate with injury or tissue damage, but it can be present even in the absence of tissue damage. Pain can be acute or chronic. Acute pain lasts for a short time – up to 12 weeks. It is a warning that tissue damage has occurred or may occur, or to help us prevent injury or disease.

For example, touching a hot stove sends a danger message to the brain that there is a threat to the tissues, which helps prevent further injury. A sore foot can signal a need to change footwear. In some cases, the danger messages may be due to some disease process, and the brain may interpret those messages as pain. This can cause a person to seek medical attention for what may be a serious condition. Signaling pain in this manner is the body's way of protecting us and is a good thing.

Chronic pain is any discomfort or unpleasant sensation that lasts for more than three months or beyond the expected normal healing time. Often, those who have chronic pain believe they have an ongoing disease or that their body has not healed, when this may not be the case. Chronic pain is not likely warning a person of possible injury or danger; instead, the pain centers in the brain may be causing the person to hurt even though there are no new causes of pain occurring in the body. Anyone can develop chronic pain at any age.

The brain changes in chronic pain. When a person is injured or develops a painful disease, nerves send information from the problem area to the brain. The brain analyzes this information coming from the body to determine if there is a threat to the body and whether action needs to be taken to prevent harm. When pain is constant or chronic, the brain and nervous system become more sensitive and go on "high alert." Cells that conduct sensation in the nervous system can also become more sensitive when on high alert, making it easier for the brain to interpret these sensations as a threat and thus cause a person to have more pain. These changes in the brain and central nervous system induce and maintain chronic pain symptoms.

When pain is chronic, pain sensations are activated in the brain, and the brain continues to interpret all sensations from the problem areas as danger, even when there is no more tissue damage occurring. This makes it easier for the pain centers in the brain to activate, and pain messages come from many different areas of the brain – areas that may control fight or fear reactions, movement, emotions, problem-solving, and learning. In fact, almost any system of the body can be affected by chronic pain. The brain and nervous system continue reacting by causing a person to continue to be in pain. This process increases sensations, emotions, or thoughts about the pain.

Physical therapy is a proven treatment method for chronic pain that has been used for many years. Physical therapists work with patients to reduce their pain, improve their function and mobility, and enhance their quality of life.

At Emery Physical Therapy in Mt Prospect, IL, our experienced physical therapists use a combination of therapeutic exercises, manual therapy, and other techniques to help individuals suffering from chronic pain. Our team takes a personalized approach to each patient's treatment plan, considering their unique needs and goals.

One of the main goals of physical therapy for chronic pain is to reduce pain and inflammation through exercise and manual therapy. Exercise helps to strengthen the muscles around the painful area, which can help to relieve the pressure on the affected tissues. Manual therapy techniques, such as massage and joint mobilization, can also help to reduce pain and inflammation by increasing blood flow and promoting healing.

Physical therapy also focuses on improving function and mobility. Chronic pain can lead to decreased activity levels, which can further exacerbate the pain and lead to a cycle of inactivity and pain. Physical therapists work with patients to develop a customized exercise plan that gradually increases in intensity and duration to help them regain their strength, mobility, and independence.

At Emery Physical Therapy, we also incorporate other techniques into our treatment plans to help manage chronic pain. These may include:

  1. Heat or Cold Therapy: Applying heat or cold to the affected area can help to reduce pain and inflammation.

  2. Electrical Stimulation: This technique uses electrical impulses to stimulate the nerves in the affected area, which can help to reduce pain.

  3. Ultrasound: Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to stimulate the affected tissues, which can help to reduce pain and promote healing.

  4. TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation): This technique uses a small device that delivers electrical impulses to the nerves in the affected area, which can help to reduce pain.

  5. Biofeedback: This technique involves using electronic devices to help patients learn to control their body's responses to pain, stress, and anxiety.

In addition to these techniques, our physical therapists also work with patients to develop coping strategies for managing their chronic pain. This may include relaxation techniques, stress management, and other strategies to help patients manage their pain and improve their overall well-being.

If you are suffering from chronic pain, don't wait any longer to seek treatment. At Emery Physical Therapy in Mt. Prospect, IL and Emery Physical Therapy in Oakbrook Terrace, IL, our team of experienced physical therapists is here to help. Contact us today to schedule an appointment and learn more about how we can help you manage your chronic pain and improve your quality of life.