Chronic pain is a debilitating condition that affects people from all walks of life for a variety of conditions. It persists for weeks to months and negatively impacts day-to-day life. Physiotherapists frequently encounter a large array of patients dealing with chronic pain and physiotherapy can help with managing day-to-day. In this post, we’ll be covering what it is, how it occurs, what physiotherapy can do to help, and how it can be managed in their daily lives.

What is Chronic Pain?

It is often defined as pain that persists for longer than 3 months and causes a decline in function or mobility [2] and commonly develops following an initial acute injury, like a back strain or acute neck injury and persisting for months commonly due to ‘central sensitisation.’

Central sensitisation occurs when there is no longer any physiological damage to the structures, but the brain continues to perceive and feel pain [4]. It also develops with chronic conditions such as osteoarthritis or degenerative conditions such as rotator cuff tears.

Chronic pain results in functional decline and mobility decline as many people cease activity because it hurts or is painful and therefore avoid certain movements or activities. For example, with chronic back pain, people may avoid bending forward or lifting objects as they perceive these as painful tasks that might cause more damage.

Physiotherapy can help in these situations by educating patients that movement is safe and can encourage therapeutic exercise to get people moving again and help them regain their function.

Physiotherapy & how it can help

Physiotherapists can use a range of treatment modalities to assist people dealing with chronic pain. Education around this is vital and can assist people to understand what is occurring in the body that is causing chronic, persistent pain. A popular educational strategy developed by neuroscientists and physiotherapists is called Explain Pain or known as Pain Neuroscience Education [2,4].

This strategy communicates to clients that pain does not always mean tissue damage but is more commonly a perceived need to protect the body, even if there is no longer a threat [4]. This can be a difficult topic to wrap your head around initially but is the first step to understanding your pain and getting you on your way to better management.

With education, physiotherapists can then assist clients experiencing chronic pain to start moving again and incorporate therapeutic exercise into their management. By strengthening the body, increasing the release of endorphins, and slowly introducing the body to movement again; therapeutic exercise can assist clients to move past by improving their function and quality of life.

A recent large cohort study found that throughout all age groups, those who exercised more frequently weekly, experienced less chronic pain than those not exercising [1]. Exercise benefits more than just our physical health, it has major impacts on our mental health and quality of life as well.

The Benefits of Exercise

Some examples of exercise in managing this include [3]:

  • Gentle stretching movements to start moving the body structures
  • Body weight strengthening exercises such as lunges or squats
  • Light aerobic activity such as walking, treadmill or stationary bike
  • Light hand weight exercises to strengthen the arms and upper body
  • Yoga and Tai Chi to assist with moving the body and mindfulness

As chronic pain is a persistent condition it requires long-term management strategies that clients can incorporate independently into their daily lives. Physiotherapists can assist with education of self-management strategies such as exercise and work with clients to develop ways to reduce their daily chronic pain.

What to do now?

If you or your friends and family are suffering from chronic pain give us a call at Generation Physio, we have a friendly team of professionals that are dedicated to changing the lives of our clients. All of our clinicians are mobile and come to your own home to conduct an examination. Give us a call on 1300 122 884 to book a consultation today.


Article Written By Hannah-Mae Sempf

Physiotherapist – Moreton Bay

Hannah-Mae graduated from Australian Catholic University with a Bachelor of Physiotherapy (Honours) with first class honours. She has gained clinical experience across musculoskeletal, neurological, rehabilitation, cardiorespiratory and paediatrics physiotherapy. Hannah-Mae is a current member of the APA.

Hannah-Mae has a passion for working with patients of all ages from children to older adults. She enjoys working across all areas of physiotherapy and has specific interests in the areas of rehabilitation, paediatrics and research.

Learn more about Hannah-Mae here.


References: 

Landmark, T., Romundstad, P., Borchgrevink, P., Kaasa, S. and Dale, O., 2011. Associations between recreational exercise and chronic pain in the general population: Evidence from the HUNT 3 study. Pain, 152(10), pp.2241-2247. 

Physiopedia. 2020. Chronic Pain. [online] Available at: <https://www.physio-pedia.com/Chronic_Pain> [Accessed 10 March 2020]. 

Oliveira, C., Pinto, R. and Franco, M., 2016. Walking exercise for chronic musculoskeletal pain (PEDro synthesis). British Journal of Sports Medicine, 50(21), pp.1346-1347. 

Butler, D. and Moseley, L., 2014. Explain Pain. 2nd ed. Adelaide, SA: Noigroup Publications. 

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