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Here’s a look at why physical therapy is better than medication, shots, braces and surgery.

Let me first define what physical therapy is. Physical therapists are highly trained professionals who are experts in identifying and treating the cause of your pain/problem versus just treating the symptoms of your problem. At your first appointment, physical therapists spend an hour detecting areas of restricted range of motion, areas of weakness and performing special tests specific to the area you are having pain/problems.

These special tests tell the physical therapist specific information as to why you are having the pain you are having. If you are having pain anywhere from your waist to your feet, your physical therapist will watch you stand and walk so as to analyze your walking mechanics to determine the root cause of your pain.

Medications, shots, braces and surgery all have their place and can be helpful at times. Medications, shots and braces, in particular, specifically treat the symptoms of the problem you are having but do not resolve the reason why your problem happened in the first place.

For example, you are sitting in your car in the driver’s seat and you reach behind you to the back seat to bring something to the front. As you do this, you feel intense pain in your shoulder. You then notice that you cannot lift your arm out to the side or over your head due to severe pain in the shoulder.

You see your doctor, who gives you medication, which unfortunately has little to no effect on your pain. So, the next step is to have a shot of cortisone in your shoulder. The shot helps decrease the pain significantly, but unfortunately this relief only lasts for two days and the pain returns.

In this example, the medications and the shot are reducing the inflammation that is caused by an injury to a group of muscles in your shoulder called the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff became pinched when you reached back to lift the object. At that point, the rotator cuff muscles became weak and the tissues that hold the shoulder joint together became tight, as did the muscles around the shoulder, limiting you range of motion in your shoulder.

So, the pain was only lessened for a few days because the medications and shot were decreasing the inflammation from the pinched, weak and tight rotator cuff. However, the medications and the shot did nothing to “un-pinch” the rotator cuff or restore the range of motion to the shoulder, and did not improve the loss of strength to the shoulder from the pinched rotator cuff muscles.

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Physical therapists on the other hand would perform joint mobilizations to the shoulder joint, which are stretches to the tissues that connect the shoulder ball to its socket. They would also stretch the muscles around your shoulder to restore all pre-injury motion. In addition, the physical therapist would instruct you in exercises that strengthen and “un-pinch” the rotator cuff.

In this example, if you were constantly treated with medications and shots, you may become addicted to pain medication and or end up in a cycle of repetitive injections that do not help long term. This may in turn lead to surgery to repair rotator cuff damage in the shoulder.

All of which, many times, could have been avoided if the patient went to physical therapy first and addressed the reason why the problem occurred from the beginning.

Despite the fact that physical therapy addresses the cause of the pain/problem and returns you to your desired activities without medication, braces, surgery or shots, physical therapy is only used by less than 10 percent of the population. This is solely because most folks, including physicians don’t truly understand what physical therapy can accomplish.

To find out how to address and resolve the cause of the pain you are having, call Cardin and Miller Physical Therapy at 717-245-0400 to schedule your free consultation with one of our physical therapists.

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Steve Miller is the owner of Cardin and Miller Physical Therapy and can be reached by email at smiller@cardinmillerpt.com. His column will appear bi-monthly in the Thrive section of the Sentinel and on Cumberlink.com.

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