Physical Therapists Transform Care for Chronic Pain Patients


Physical Therapists Transform Care for Chronic Pain Patients

Kimberly DeChant
September 14, 2017

Whether it’s a broken bone, sprained ankle or aching back, we all have experienced injuries that interrupt our daily lives or impair our ability to perform certain tasks.

In most cases, a few weeks of physical therapy can have you back on your feet in no time. But what about pain that continues months or even years after an injury occurs?

According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine (AAPM), more than 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain — more than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined. Patients that experience chronic pain may require continuous physical therapy, and a more proactive approach to pain management than prescribed medications can provide.

As an integral part of the healthcare team, physical therapists (PTs) and physical therapist assistants (PTAs) work together to set chronic pain patients on the road to recovery. Strengthening exercises and pain management education can help patients achieve longer-lasting relief from their symptoms and allow them to lead fuller, more active lives.

Chronic pain often affects elderly patients, and the need for physical therapy professionals will continue to expand as the baby boomer generation ages. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that employment for PTAs will grow by as much as 40 percent by 2024, much faster than average for all occupations.

Physical therapists not only make a difference in patients’ quality of life, they also demonstrate the importance and necessity of hands-on patient-centered care.

What role do physical therapists play?

PTAs and other PT professionals play a central role in ensuring that their patients lead happy, healthy and fulfilling lives. The National Institute of Health (NIH) recommends physical therapy as the most effective treatment option for chronic pain, since it empowers patients to take an active role in improving their health.

While many chronic pain sufferers are prescribed an opioid analgesic to alleviate their discomfort, opioids do not relieve chronic pain as effectively as acute pain, which results directly from an injury. Opioids are highly addictive, and their widespread use has contributed to an increase in opioid addictions and deaths in the United States, known as the "silent opioid epidemic."

Today, doctors recognize that often times a "quick fix" may not be the best approach, and encourage patients to search for alternative options to manage their chronic pain. Physical therapy offers a healthy and holistic approach to pain management, helping chronic pain sufferers to feel better longer.

What is a PTA, and how can I become one?

PTAs work alongside a team of physical therapists to deliver care to patients whose conditions limit their ability to move or perform daily activities. They assist in the treatment of individuals of all ages, helping improve their patients’ mobility and enjoyment of life by providing pain management education and instruction.

PTAs may work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, private practices, outpatient clinics, schools, sports and fitness facilities, and more. PTAs may also advance to administrative positions as they gain more experience on the job.

Herzing University offers an Associate of Science in Physical Therapist Assistant degree program at select campuses. 

Learn More About Our Physical Therapist Assistant Program