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Pain treatment: Physical rehabilitation and techniques

Physical rehabilitation and methods have long been used to reduce pain. Today, many healthcare professionals specialize in physical techniques used in pain management.

  • Physiatry (physical medicine and rehabilitation). This field uses physical methods of care to diagnose, treat and manage disease, with the goal of restoring a patient’s normal function. Many physiatrists have an area of specialization, like sports medicine, spinal cord injury or pain management. Physiatry does not include surgery.

  • Physiotherapy. Physiotherapy (also called Physical Therapy) helps restore function, improve mobility, relieve pain and prevent or limit permanent physical disabilities of those suffering from injuries or disease. The goal is to restore, maintain and promote overall fitness and health. Physiotherapists use treatment methods to relieve pain and reduce swelling including electrical stimulation, hot packs, cold compresses, traction, deep-tissue massage and ultrasound. They also teach patients to use assistive or adaptive devices, such as crutches, prostheses and wheelchairs. Exercise training is also part of physiotherapy.

  • Exercise. Exercise is good for the body and mind. It not only keeps you healthy, but also helps reduce pain. Regular exercise protects against falls and bone fractures in the elderly, and can help control joint swelling and pain in arthritis (Use the glossary to learn about pain words). Apart from being good for you physically, exercise has a positive effect on your mental and emotional health. It helps you cope with stress, bond with family and friends, improve your self-image, and ease anxiety and depression by releasing endorphins, which are natural painkillers (Feel the benefit of exercise).

  • Hydrotherapy, heat and cold. Hydrotherapy uses warm water combined with exercise to ease painful muscles and joints. Being in the water reduces pressure on joints, making it easier to do many exercises. Ice packs, cold compresses, hot water bottles, heating pads and the like are used widely to relieve pain. As expected, cold and heat therapy have opposite effects. Cold therapies decrease swelling and pain by constricting blood vessels and numbing nerve endings. Hot therapies, on the other hand, cause dilation of blood vessels, increasing blood circulation to the area. This increased blood flow helps relax muscle spasms and relieve pain.

  • Massage, pressure and vibration. Physical stimulation of muscles or connective tissue can help aid relaxation and relieve painful muscle spasms or contractions.

  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). TENS uses tiny, harmless electric pulses applied on the skin over the painful area. The electric current causes numbness or contractions, which in turn provide temporary pain relief.