Most active adults have a familiar and complex relationship with pain. The older we get, the more opportunities we have to experience this relationship. We often have periods of strenuous activity that yields a pain episode temporarily. We ice, we heat, we rest, etc. The episode then resolves itself in a few short days and on with life we go. But what if it does not resolve? When should more action be taken? To answer this we must first understand what pain is.
“Pain” is a very complex sensation. In the most elementary sense, pain is how our bodies communicate with our conscious mind. First, the nervous system detects an area of imbalance somewhere in the body. Then the body makes you aware of the imbalance by creating these unique and noxious sensations. Overall, the body is trying to protect itself and minimize greater disparity. To this description, the pain cycle is vital for our prosperity. Perceiving pain minimizes excessive bodily harm or may prevent injury altogether. Pain is valuable despite its dissatisfactory presence.
If we remove the stigmas around pain, we will master our responses to it. This is where physical therapy enters the equation. Therapists are trained to isolate the cause of pain and invent a method of repair. Both actions require both an open mind and honest assessment from the person in pain and the therapist. But when should you open the door for a therapist to enter?
Spoiler Alert: It’s BEFORE you have pain - I know it's shocking. The truth is, a physical therapist can assess a person for potential risks in a given physical activity then advise on prevention and avoidance. Significant actions like lifting, running, carrying, cross-training, and pushing/pulling can be evaluated for proper performance at any age or skill level. These actions are the usual suspects in pain generation. Improving the body’s performance of these actions could significantly reduce or prevent pain altogether. Therefore, pain prevention is the best method of pain management.
But what if you already have pain? The first step is ruling out sinister causes. If pain onset is gradual without a specific cause and hurts constantly, it is best to contact a trusted health care provider. A physical therapist can talk to you and uncover the possible causes of your pain and suggest the next best course of action. Usually, pain that lasts longer than a couple weeks, that cannot be relieved using home remedies is when most people seek the help of a physical therapist. If there is very little improvement in your situation by that time and the pain is starting to interfere with your day to day activities, it's best to contact your PT.
If you or someone you care about has the indicators above, consult a physical therapist promptly. All too often we “wait it out” hoping the situation will cease magically. Thankfully a prolific physical therapist can help. A physical therapist consulted early into the episode can guide an individual to a prompt recovery. Delaying interventions unfortunately does delay time into the episode and ultimately time to fully eradicate. In summary, the quickest way past pain is directly through it.