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What Does A Physiotherapist Do For Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain is a persistent and often debilitating condition that affects millions of people worldwide.

On the other hand, acute pain is a direct and transient response to an injury or illness and typically resolves as your body heals. It often acts as an alert system to indicate that the body has sustained a tissue injury. For example, this can include stubbing your toe on a piece of furniture where the pain lasts for a minute or two or suffering from an ankle sprain where the pain can limit you from walking on it for a few weeks.

However, chronic pain lingers for months or even years, well beyond the normal healing period and generally serves no functional purpose. For instance, you may have heard some people mention they have low back pain that is linked to an old injury from 20 years ago.

For some, this persistent pain can be detrimental and disruptive to your daily life, making it difficult to perform even simple tasks such as walking or performing household chores and significantly diminishing your overall quality of life.

Understanding chronic pain and knowing how to manage it effectively is essential for regaining control over your life. We will explore the nature of chronic pain, common misconceptions, and practical strategies for managing it with a focus on physiotherapy.

What is Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain is defined as pain that lasts longer than three months and extends beyond the usual recovery period for bodily tissues.

The initial source of the pain can stem from an injury, a medical condition, or sometimes occur without a clear cause. This can include conditions like:

  • arthritis
  • chronic low back pain
  • fibromyalgia

In comparison to acute pain, chronic pain is often more complex and multifaceted, as it involves both physical and psychological components. This means that your management and rehabilitation process is usually more involved compared to an acute injury.

injured at workplace

Common Misconceptions About Chronic Pain

“It is all in your head”

Hopefully you have not personally had anyone tell you that “it’s all in your head”, but this is a common misconception about chronic pain due to its involvement of psychological factors.

While chronic pain can be associated by psychological factors, it is a real physical condition with physical changes in the nervous system. When your body is dealing with continuous pain, your nervous system can become sensitized, amplifying pain signals despite the absence of injury.

In pain science terms, this phenomenon is known as “central sensitization”, where your central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) becomes hypersensitive to pain signals.

Imagine a car alarm that is meant to go off as an anti-theft mechanism. Sometimes, it is too sensitive to stimuli that even someone driving by can set it off.

“Take it easy”

Sometimes we are used to resting acute injuries for better recovery, however these rules do not apply for chronic pain conditions.

General inactivity as well as inactivity of your painful area can actually exacerbate your chronic pain. Appropriate movement and physical activity is often incorporated into chronic pain programs as it can help manage and reduce your pain.

Resting too much can lead to muscle weakening, joint and muscle stiffness, and decreased overall physical function, creating a cycle of pain and decreasing fitness.

Remember: “Motion is Lotion!

Is Physical Therapy Good For Chronic Pain?

Physiotherapy plays a crucial role in the management of your chronic pain. Here is how your Burnaby physiotherapist can help:

Understanding chronic pain through education

Chronic pain conditions, although common, can be scary as it can affect many aspects of your life.

Your physiotherapist can explain the biological and psychological processes involved in chronic pain, helping you to manage it more effectively. By understanding how pain works, you can be less fearful and anxious towards your condition as you are equipped with tools to be in control of their pain.

One of the most important aspects to pain science education is to help you understand that pain is not always a sign of damage like in acute pain but rather a signal that can be influenced by various factors.

Personalized exercise programs

Your physiotherapist can design personalized exercise routines that focus on a comprehensive approach to chronic pain conditions. This can include exercises that focus on improving your strength, flexibility, and endurance without exacerbating pain.

Over time, this can help reduce your pain and improve function, which will help you get back to the simple tasks you may have missed out on due to your pain.

Gradual exposure to movement

Although it may sound daunting, physical activity and exercises can reduce your pain and improve function over time. By slowly introducing increased physical activity, your body can adapt and increase its tolerance to movement while reducing sensitivity to pain.

Your physiotherapist in Burnaby will gradually start you with manageable activities and slowly advance and progress these activities over time. This addresses the overarching therapy goal which is to build confidence and reduce the fear of movement so that you can perform day-to-day activities independently.

Addressing chronic pain through lifestyle changes

Learning how to modify daily activities to reduce strain on painful areas can make a significant difference. Often, patients who deal with chronic pain have experienced it for a long time and have learned to cope with it by “pushing through pain”.

However, this may be contributing to the problem. Your physiotherapist can educate you on utilizing pacing strategies, breaking tasks into smaller steps, and using adaptive equipment to make your tasks easier.

injured at workplace

What Do You Do When You Have Chronic Pain?

1. Stay active: Motion is lotion

Regular, gentle exercise can help keep your muscles strong and flexible, reducing pain and improving mood. Activities like walking, swimming, or yoga are often beneficial. It is important to choose activities you enjoy to ensure you stay consistent.

2. Pace yourself

It is common for chronic pain patients to push through pain as much as it is for patients to avoid activities due to pain. One of the key therapeutic goals your physiotherapist will address is to find the point between doing too much versus not doing enough.

The general principle is to avoid overdoing activities on good days and underdoing them on bad days. Finding consistency is key and learning how to prevent and manage flare-ups is crucial for managing your chronic pain.

3. Mindfulness techniques

To address the psychological aspects of chronic pain, relaxation techniques like meditation and deep breathing can be a useful self-management strategy. Often increased stress, negative emotions such as anxiousness and fearfulness can make you less tolerant to pain.

Although it is hard to see direct effects, these practices can reduce stress, improve emotional well-being, and help you cope with pain more effectively as these can influence the pain experience.

4. Healthy lifestyle choices

Good lifestyle choices such as maintaining a balanced diet, staying hydrated, and getting enough sleep can have a significant impact.

In general, although most people can agree that these are “good for you”, many struggle to stick to these healthy habits especially if dealing with chronic pain. Through subjective history taking, your physiotherapist can assess areas in your lifestyle that can be addressed and promote an overall healthier life.

5. Seek support

Chronic pain can be isolating to those who are suffering from the condition.

Your physiotherapist can refer you to various resources such as support groups or psychologists who can provide emotional support and practical advice. Connecting with others who understand your experience can reduce feelings of isolation and provide valuable coping strategies.

Get Help For Your Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is often a complex and challenging problem many patients face. Your North Burnaby physiotherapist can help guide you on the different ways to manage your pain and take back control.

Visit Your Physiotherapist

Phone 604-738-1168


Q: Can my chronic pain ever be completely cured?

A: While some cases of chronic pain can be resolved, many people may not achieve a complete “pain-free” status. Unfortunately, there is no magic cure for pain due to the complex nature of chronic pain.

However, with effective individualized management strategies, including physiotherapy, many can significantly reduce their pain and improve their quality of life. The goal of physiotherapy is often to manage your pain to the point that allows for a functional and meaningful life.

Q: How does my physiotherapists tailor exercise programs for my chronic pain?

A: The process starts with a thorough physiotherapy assessment where your physiotherapist will discuss with you about your specific condition, pain levels, and functional limitations to design personalized exercise programs.

By further understanding these individual factors and limitations, exercise prescription will be based on gradually adjusting activities from your current capabilities. Through the rehabilitation process, your physiotherapist will progress your program based on your progress and feedback, ensuring a safe and effective approach to pain management.