'Motion is Lotion' for Bodies in Chronic Pain

For people with chronic pain, physical therapy is safer alternative to opioids — and it can be just effective. Find out why in this Q&A.

by Tracy Davenport, Ph.D. Health Writer

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging healthcare providers to reduce the use of opioids in favor of safe alternatives to pain management like physical therapy. In June 2016, the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) launched its #ChoosePT campaign to educate consumers about the benefits of physical therapy for pain management. The campaign directly aligns and supports the APTA's vision of transforming society by optimizing movement to improve the human experience.

HealthCentral interviewed physical therapist Joseph Brence, spokesperson for the #ChoosePT campaign.

Joseph Brence copy
American Physical Therapy Association.

HealthCentral: Tell us about the goals of the American Physical Therapy Association’s #ChoosePT campaign. What are you hoping to achieve?

Joseph Brence: We hope to provide consumers with a safe alternative to opioids. It is an ongoing effort, so we are continuing to try to get the word out. Our hope is to reach as many Americans as we can. Not everyone understands what physical therapy is and how we can help with chronic pain.

HealthCentral: Can you discuss some of the main reasons a patient with chronic pain should see a physical therapist?

Joseph: Physical therapists are highly skilled to handle patients with chronic pain. Pain is both a sensory and emotional experience. Movement is often key for many with chronic pain. There is a misconception that if you have pain, you should not move. The opposite is actually true. Movement can diminish pain symptoms. We used to believe that we should stop moving when we are in pain. Now we understand that motion is lotion to the body.

HealthCentral: Physical therapy can be painful short term, which may be a hard sell for those already in pain. What advice would give those who are hesitant to choose physical therapy because of the possibility of more pain?

Joseph: I understand that people may have experienced pain in physical therapy. However, patients need to choose a physical therapist who listens. Pain is a symptom in your body and physical therapists should be relieving symptoms, not making them worse. If you are seeing a physical therapist, you need to be able to verbalize so the PT can modify the treatment based upon the symptoms. The goal is not to put you in more pain. A physical therapist’s goal is make you hurt less.

HealthCentral: Many people in chronic pain have already seen a multitude of medical professionals without any relief. What makes physical therapists different?

Joseph: What can be challenging is when different medical providers tell you different things. That can be very challenging. Physical therapists assess how you are moving in pain and then teach you how to move in less pain. They can see what is happening in your body and help you to move differently so tasks are no longer painful. This may involve you getting stronger in some areas. A diagnosis, such as arthritis, is important to a physical therapist, but what is even more important is whether or not the arthritis is impacting your movement.

HealthCentral: How can physical therapists work collaboratively with other healthcare providers when treating someone with chronic pain?

Joseph: Physical therapy is designed to work best in a multidisciplinary environment. Patients can come to see a physical therapist directly, or patients can work through their physicians to find a physical therapist. If the patient works through their doctor, this can sometimes be the best model because then the physical therapist can collaborate with the doctors who are already involved to make sure there is consistency of care.

Tracy Davenport, Ph.D.
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Tracy Davenport, Ph.D.

Davenport is the founder of Tracyshealthyliving.com. Using the latest scientific research, she helps people live their healthiest lives via one-on-one coaching, corporate talks, and sharing the more than 1,000 health-related articles she's authored.