Why Surgery Should Be Your Physical Therapist’s Last Resort for Chronic Pain

Surgery isn’t the only option for chronic pain. Conservative therapy works just as well.

Whether it’s from a sudden musculoskeletal injury or a degenerative disorder such as arthritis, most people will experience bouts of persistent pain during their lifetime. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 50 million adults in the U.S. have endured chronic pain that lasts three months or more. In addition to being a medical issue, chronic pain exacts a high toll in lost productivity and healthcare costs.

If you’re one of the millions of people affected by chronic pain, you may think surgery is the only answer. But that’s not so. In most cases, your orthopedist will recommend conservative methods such as physical therapy to ease your pain. With a customized treatment plan, you’ll realize a dramatic reduction in your discomfort.

What is conservative therapy?

Most often the first line of treatment for orthopedic conditions, conservative therapy involves non-surgical, non-invasive remedies for pain management. Compared to surgery, a conservative plan carries less risk. That doesn’t mean it will work in every case, as some acute injuries, such a full ligament tear, may require surgical intervention. Your orthopedist will determine whether surgery or physical therapy will work for your specific condition. Yet most orthopedic injuries respond well to conservative therapy, with surgery considered as a last resort.

Conservative therapy takes a three-pronged approach to easing pain and improving your mobility. These treatments are usually done in combination with each other.

Medication. Pain relievers like non-steroidal, anti-inflammatories such as Advil and aspirin can be bought over the counter. Your doctor may also prescribe a muscle relaxer. Steroid injections can decrease inflammation and pain for up to six months, but must be administered carefully. Cortisone shots are usually limited to three or four a year to not damage the tissues. While medications provide quick pain relief, long-term use of drugs is not recommended due to the potential for dependency. Further, medication doesn’t address the source of the pain, which is where physical therapy comes in.

Physical therapy. A physical therapist will review your condition and pinpoint what may be causing the pain and stiffness. Using that information, the therapist will devise a customized exercise plan to strengthen your muscles and increase your range of motion. You can do these exercises in the clinic under the guidance of your therapist or at home. Your therapist may also employ hot/cold therapy and electrical stimulation, and they may manually move the joints and massage the tissues to improve mobility, as well.

Lifestyle changes. Modifying how you go about your daily activities can also decrease your discomfort. You may be stressing your muscles and joints without even knowing it. A physical therapist can show you how to improve your posture or lift heavy objects the right way so you don’t strain your back, neck, or shoulders.

In essence, conservative therapy combines medication, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes within a holistic treatment plan to manage acute or chronic pain. You may not realize immediate pain relief, but if you stick with it, you’ll soon reap the benefits of taking a conservative path to stop your pain. Best of all, you’ll have avoided surgery, which can be very taxing for the body to recover from.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top