Physical Therapy and Pain Management

As physical therapy experts, the one thing we can tell you of which we are certain is that experts have very little understanding of how pain actually works in the human body. Studies are ongoing to try to understand this horrific and debilitating sensation which may or may not be associated with injury. The best we can do for now is to take the knowledge that we already have about pain and apply it to the care of our patients.

Today we’re going to talk about the mechanisms and mysteries of pain, and how it can affect--or not affect--how a person feels.

Pain originates in the brain

A simplified version is that if your brain creates pain. In various studies, if a person can be convinced that someone is doing damage to their body, they will actually feel the pain, even when they are unharmed. It’s called neural perception, and no one knows exactly why it activates in some situations and not others.


As an example, many adults over the age of sixty have damage to their back. However, only a portion of the population feels pain as a result. Other people can have pain, even though there is no discernible cause. Yet, neither of these groups is faking.

Pain is real, and serious consequences can result if pain is ignored or not treated properly.

Pain threshold

We know that certain things will raise or lower a person’s pain threshold. Stress, for example, will lower a person’s ability to deal with pain, as will depression. Women have a lower pain threshold than men. Other factors include age, ethnicity, and conditioning.

Endorphins have a tremendous impact on pain, as shown by this statement taken from a woman who was at the show of a world renowned singer:

“My feet hurt so badly,” described the concert-goer. “We stood for five hours before the show. Then the lights flashed, the singer appeared, and I didn’t feel my feet for the next two hours. As soon as the music ended, I thought I would collapse.”

What we do know about treatment

  • Early onset of treatment  such as physical therapy is one of the best ways to be proactive in pain management.

  • Relaxation, such as that obtained from a massage, is of great benefit to those experiencing pain. Relaxation can open the door to cognitive therapy for patients who have pain but also have the desire to avoid chemical or pharmaceutical treatments. Massage therapy is an incredibly effective tool in the treatment of many different types of pain.

  • For a patient living with pain on a day to day basis, pain becomes a habit, like a neurological ‘stiffness’, which is hard to break out of unless it’s treated early. That’s why patients who get treatment early get better--and stay better--faster than those who delay treatment.

If your doctor recommends physical therapy, don’t delay! Physical therapy can help manage symptoms such as stiffness and pain so you can get back to enjoying your life.

If you are looking for occupational or physical therapy, vestibular rehab, wheelchair training, learning to walk, unweighting, or other services in the Phoenix area, please call Touchstone Rehabilitation at 602-277-1073.