Don’t let acute pain become chronic pain.

Have you ever said, “I have a high pain tolerance” as a point of pride? People who ignore their pain or “muscle through it” are not doing themselves any favors. Ignoring your pain can be a very dangerous gamble. Pain is not a natural or normal human condition – it is your body’s way of saying something is wrong.

As a physical therapist, I see patients all the time who have ignored their pain for too long and are now facing serious injury and a longer recovery. It is so much easier to fix a broken pipe when the leak is small rather than a giant crack with water damage. If you ignore your pain, you are essentially limiting your ability to move and do the things you want. Over time, you will lose more and more of that ability and the scope of what you can do will get smaller.

Acute vs. Chronic Pain – What’s the Difference?

When we talk about pain, we use the terms acute and chronic. Acute pain is new and it goes away. It could go away on its own, or it could go away with intervention. With chronic pain people have acute episodes, then it’s something that begins to stay around. Chronic pain hurts all the time and could be better or worse on somedays, but it is always there.

When you have acute pain in the same place, let’s say your lower back, you may do a couple exercises, take some Ibuprofen, and use a hot pack and it goes away. But let’s say the root of that pain is your posture and how you are walking. Because of this, your lower back is compensating and you will continue to get that pain. Over time, the window between acute pain becomes shorter and shorter until it is chronic.

Another risk of ignoring your pain is compensation in other parts of the body. If you have pain in your right hip when you walk, your left hip will start to compensate and may throw off your gait or your posture, leading to lower back pain. The body always keeps the score. If you ignore the pain in one area, another will compensate and then you have two or three issues to deal with instead of one.

Get Evaluated to Fix Your Pain

Patients tend to wait until their pain becomes chronic before seeking help and this is a mistake. If you have two or three instances of acute pain in the same place, it is time to be evaluated by a physical therapist. Much like a chiropractor or acupuncturist, in Nevada you do not need a referral from a primary care doctor to make an appointment with a physical therapist.

Having your pain be evaluated when it is less severe allows you to change movements or strengthen an area before it gets permanently injured. For example, if you have shoulder pain when throwing a ball, you may limit your mobility and not throw the ball until it feels better. But then you try it again and it hurts worse the second time. By getting evaluated, your physical therapist may find that you are throwing in a way that is overfatiguing your pectoral muscle or tearing your rotator cuff, causing it to tighten and pull on your shoulder. Through a series of manipulation and exercises you can stop this imbalance and fix the shoulder pain for good.

Most chronic pain is caused by repetitive strain. Working at a computer with a chair that does not fit your body, repetitive movements on the line of a manufacturing facility, poor posture when driving, etc. Pain often fits into a pattern. But how we fix it is individualized. Everyone has a different lifestyle and goals for health and movement. If your goal is to not have back pain so you can play at the park with your grandchildren, or fix your knee pain so you can run your first marathon, we will work with you to create a treatment plan to fix your pain so you can be stronger than yesterday.