Will Physical Therapy Alleviate Pain?

Physical Theraphy

Will Physical Therapy Alleviate Pain?

Chronic pain is a significant problem in the United States. Physical therapy is used to treat many causes of chronic pain, including osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, muscle cramps, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic headaches, and neuropathic pain (caused by injury to nerves or tissues).

Why People Seek Out Physical Therapists

Many patients turn to physical therapists when they have pain problems that do not resolved with usual care (medications and education). In the initial visits to the licensed physical therapist, the patient explains when they began feeling the pain and what may have caused the pain. Whether from an injury or chronic wear-and-tear on the body, the therapist conducts an evaluation to assess the cause of the pain. This assessment identifies musculoskeletal imbalances, postural faults, joint mobility, muscle strength, and soft tissue integrity.

Based on the patient’s personal goals and the diagnosis, the therapist creates an individualized treatment plan. A home exercise program is developed to speed the recovery process and help improve flexibility and strength. The physical therapists make sure the patient understands the proper technique of exercise. Physical therapy spans from 6-12 weeks, lasts around an hour per visit, and appointments are scheduled for 2-3 visits each week.

Treatments used by the Physical Therapist

Chronic pain leaves a person wanting to curl up in bed with a bottle of medication and not move. However, exercise is one of the best pain management options available, used to treat mild to moderate acute and chronic pain. Physical therapy is useful for many types of neuropathic and musculoskeletal pain. The main goal of physical therapy is to alleviate chronic pain and help the patient become stronger. In addition, the therapist can teach the patient how to move functionally and safely in ways they have not been able to move for quite some time. Exercise may involve running on a treadmill, using various weight-bearing machines, and swimming.

Besides exercises, physical therapy uses many types of pain management methods. These include:

  • Manipulation of bones and joints
  • Massage therapy
  • Micro-current stimulation to increase dopamine and serotonin
  • Movement therapy

Physical therapy addresses the physical side of pain, stiffness, and inflammation with exercise, massage, and manipulation. However, it also works to help the body heal itself by stimulating the release of natural pain-relieving substances and antibodies.

Efficacy Studies

Recently, researchers conducted a systematic review to assess the effectiveness of manual physical therapy for glenohumeral joint pain and associated shoulder conditions. The evaluated outcomes of participants 18-80 years of age were pain, range of motion, function, and quality of life. The researchers found that manual physical therapy increased both active and passive shoulder mobility, decreased pain, and improved quality of life.

In a randomized controlled study, manual physical therapy and exercise were compared with a home exercise program for people receiving care for knee osteoarthritis. The researchers evaluated 134 people in the study who were assigned to a treatment group or a home exercise group. The treatment group received supervised exercise and individualized manual therapy.

Subjects in the home exercise group received only home exercise that was reinforced at the medical clinic 2 weeks later. According to results, both groups had statistically significant improvements with walking and pain scores, which improved by 52%. Patients in the clinical treatment group showed twice as much improvement that the home exercise group.


Carmarinos J & Marinko L (2009). Effectiveness of manual physical therapy for painful shoulder conditions: a systematic review. J Man Manip Ther, 17(4), 206-215.

Deyle GD, Allison SC, Matekel RL, et al. (2005). Physical Therapy Treatment Effectiveness for Osteoarthritis of the Knee: A Randomized Comparison of Supervised Clinical Exercise and Manual Therapy Procedures Versus a Home Exercise Program. Journal of the Am Phys Ther Assoc, 85(12).

Niis J, Mannerkorpi K, Descheemaeker F, et al. (2010). Primary Care Physical Therapy in People With Fibromyalgia: Opportunities and Boundaries Within a Monodisciplinary Setting. Physical Therapy, 90(12).

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