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Physical Therapy for Chronic Pain: What to Expect

Physical therapy is one of the best choices you can make when you have long-term (chronic) pain. It makes you stronger and helps you move and feel better. 

Ask your doctor to recommend a physical therapist. You'll probably need a series of PT sessions, and you should practice some of the exercises at home for the best results.

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Physical therapists have a lot of training. Still, it’s a good idea to ask them about their experience in working with people who've had conditions like yours. You can also ask them how many sessions you'll need.

How Does Physical Therapy Treat Pain?

You can think of PT as being like a super-focused type of workout. But you’re not trying to burn calories. The goal is to target the muscles in the areas where you feel pain, so those joints work better and have more support.

In a PT session, you may do more than one of these things:

Low-impact aerobic training. These workouts will rev up your heart rate and still take it easy on your joints. For instance, you might walk fast or use a stationary bike to warm up, instead of running, before you do your strengthening exercises.

Strengthening exercises. You might use machines at your physical therapist’s office, resistance bands, or your own body weight (think lunges, squats, and push-ups). You may work on your core muscles (belly, glutes, and back), as well as other parts of your body.

Pain relief exercises. These moves target areas where you have pain, so you're stronger and more flexible -- which should make it easier to live your life.

Stretching. This will be gentle, and your therapist will make sure that you're warmed up and you don’t stretch too far.

You may need to do some of these moves at home, between sessions. Your therapist will give you instructions on each exercise and how often to do them.

What Else Might I Do?

During your sessions, your therapist may also use:

Heat and ice packs. Ice calms inflammation. Heat warms up your muscles so they move better.

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