Though we tend to associate physical therapy in terms of promoting movement and restoring function, it is also a remarkably effective modality for the treatment of chronic pain, and particularly the type of pain that arises from the spine. Because of this, physical therapists often provide the first clinical treatment for back and neck pain patients. Studies have shown that physical therapy can provide greater relief of the pain caused by musculoskeletal conditions than opioid medication, and that the longer and more regularly movement-based therapy is applied, the more effective it can be.
The science behind using physical therapy for pain relief is grounded in our understanding of the way that the body’s various structures work with and against one another. Physical therapists and physiatrists look to reduce strain and restore movement that has been constrained by compression of nerves and blood vessels attached to other musculoskeletal structures. In doing so, they not only provide relief, but also help patients regain strength, flexibility and coordination.
The approach to pain relief taken by physical therapists often begins with patient education, engaging the patient as an active participant in their own treatment. By providing instruction and guiding the patient to a greater understanding of their condition and what will work for them, physical therapy professionals provide patients with a belief in their own ability to help themselves and in the importance of movement.
Though physical therapy will not provide pain relief as immediately as pain-killing medications, the benefits that they provide offer significant advantages, particularly having no harmful side effects and providing more long-lasting impact. The treatments that are offered will differ based upon the individual patient’s needs, and may consist of modalities ranging from joint manipulation to electrical stimulation. There is a certain amount of trial-and-error involved in identifying the protocol that will work best for the patient’s particular condition. Both passive and active therapy approaches will likely be offered, with passive approaches consisting of manual therapy, heat/ice packs, electrical stimulation (TENS units), ultrasound, and cupping. Active therapies may include movement and exercise-based activities meant to extend range of motion and strength, pain relieving exercises, and aerobic conditioning.
An important aspect to keep in mind about physical therapy and pain relief is that each individual may respond differently to therapy. People have different types of bodies, different patterns of movement, and different habits. Physical therapists and their trained staff can monitor each individual and attempt to correct improper habits and movement patterns.
At Progressive Spine, we are fortunate to have a team of Physical Medicine professionals headed up by Dr. Fergie-Ross Montero-Cruz. Dr. Montero is a Physiatrist who specializes in the non-surgical treatment of neck and low back pain, as well as other musculoskeletal complaints such as shoulder, elbow, hip and knee pain. She uses her skills and experience to provide attentive care to our patients, performing EMGs to diagnose disorders such as cervical and lumbar radiculopathy, peripheral neuropathy and nerve entrapments at the carpal tunnel, cubital tunnel or tarsal tunnel.
Dr. Montero graduated from Rutgers University, then went on to receive her medical degree from the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Pennsylvania. She completed her residency in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Northwell Health (formerly North Shore-Long Island Jewish) in Manhasset, NY and is licensed to practice in both New Jersey and New York.