By: Rich Kidwell, PT, Regional Director
Chronic pain has long been an issue for many Americans and for the healthcare system in the United States. Now, as we face a global pandemic, the chronic pain issues seen across the country could become even more exacerbated as additional people develop chronic pain and those already suffering from it are more susceptible to increased pain.
Today, let’s take a look at the nature of chronic pain, how those who suffer from it have been affected by the pandemic, and why physical therapy is so important.
Chronic Pain Symptoms and Consequences
Chronic pain is defined as pain that is ongoing and lasts longer than three months. Common symptoms of chronic pain syndrome include:
- Low back pain
- Joint pain
- Muscle aches
- Burning or tingling pain in different parts of the body
- Jolts of sharp pain
Chronic pain is one of the most common reasons that adults seek medical care. Untreated, chronic pain can lead to:
- Anger and depression
- Opioid dependency
- Decline in mental health
- Social isolation
- Lower self-esteem and confidence
- Overall decrease in quality of life
COVID-19 Presents Challenges for Those Suffering from Chronic Pain
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented many unprecedented challenges for patients who are experiencing chronic pain and in need of treatment, and also challenges for healthcare workers who provide pain management services, including physical therapists. Navigating these challenges is necessary in order to ensure that patients continue to receive the proper treatments.
The ability for patients to seek treatment for their pain during the pandemic may have been negatively impacted due to:
- Cancelled or delayed surgeries or medical procedures
- Loss of income due to the financial impact of the pandemic
- Limited accessibility to their medical provider
- Challenges seeking care due to extra caregiving responsibilities
Sedentary Lifestyles Increase Risk of Effects of COVID-19
What’s more, prolonged stay at home orders may have resulted in more sedentary lifestyles over the past several months, which may have led to, or exacerbated, some of the exact co-morbidities which experts have indicated can increase risk of more severe effects of COVID-19. Sedentary lifestyles also may lead to worsening or development of chronic pain disorders. This can seem like a vicious cycle that can be difficult to overcome.
It is for these reasons that it continues to be imperative that patients seek treatment for their pain.
Physical Therapists Treat Chronic Pain
Chronic pain disorders (low back pain, neck pain, arthritis, neuropathies, and joint pain) are some of the most commonly treated conditions seen by physical therapists. Physical therapists are specifically trained to assist in treating pain by:
- Educating patients on their conditions
- Providing instruction on body mechanics
- Assessing ergonomics
- Providing exercise programs to address specific patient needs and improve overall physical activity
- Providing information on other helpful lifestyle changes
In addition to increasing physical activity leading to improvement in chronic pain conditions, physical therapy can also lead to positive effects on co-morbidities, stress levels and mental well-being.
Providing physical therapy can be done safely, while adhering to public health guidelines of social distancing, wearing face coverings, and proper sanitizing practices. Read more about what we are doing to protect your health while in our clinics here.
In cases where patients don’t feel comfortable attending an in-person physical therapy visit, telehealth can be an effective option to continue to provide access to patients who are experiencing pain and are in need of treatment. Read about our telehealth physical and occupational therapy options here.