PRNewswire – In light of proposed sterner warning labels for OTC pain relievers like acetaminophen, aspirin, and ibuprofen by federal health officials, patients may wish to consider the benefits of physical therapist intervention for pain relief from certain conditions, according to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).

“Many people are looking for alternatives to the sole use of medication to deal with painful conditions,” said APTA President R Scott Ward, PT, PhD. “Pain medication may help you get through periods of severe pain, but it won’t always help you eliminate the underlying cause of some kinds of pain. For many individuals, it is the underlying causes such as poor posture and alignment, weak and/or inflexible muscles, or tight joint structures that actually exacerbate the painful condition,” Ward explained. “A physical therapist will perform a complete musculoskeletal examination and design an individualized treatment program to reduce pain and improve function.”

There are many types of pain and inflammation that can be reduced by physical therapy. For example, chronic pain in the back, shoulder, or knee, or pain associated with certain degenerative diseases such as osteoarthritis, can be reduced with the appropriate combination of medication and exercise. “The physical therapist, in collaboration with the patient and the patient’s physician, can help the patient manage his or her health over the long term,” explained Ward.

For pain of a “mechanical” origin such as back, shoulder, or knee pain, physical therapy may include therapeutic exercise, manual therapy, and functional training. “The goal of the physical therapist is to reduce pain, improve the ability to perform daily activities, and help the patient return to doing the things he or she likes to do,” said Ward. “It is also true that patients may unknowingly contribute to their own pain, such as by exercising improperly or with poor posture, and physical therapists can identify and help to correct those behaviors.”

For osteoarthritis, a degenerative disease of the cartilage and bone, physical therapy may include exercises for strength, flexibility, range of motion, and the use of devices designed to rest or support the painful joint, such as orthotics or splints.

Physical therapists, who treat nearly 1 million people every day, work with individuals to prevent the loss of mobility before it occurs by developing fitness- and wellness-oriented programs for healthier and more active lifestyles. Many insurance policies also cover post-rehabilitation gym programs, as well as evaluation by a physician who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation. “Most people who desire a fitness plan are not athletes,” Ward explained. “They are ‘ordinary people’ who exercise lightly to moderately. Many have a prior health condition, such as chronic low back pain, that can benefit greatly from physical therapist management focused on increasing muscle strength and endurance, restoring and improving range of motion in joints, increasing cardiovascular endurance, and decreasing muscle and joint pain.” The physical therapist individualizes exercise programs based on functional limitations and pain symptoms as a result of injury or illness.

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