I am not only a physical therapist, but also a husband, father, and homeowner. As such, there are always "projects" to be done. One recent one involved removing carpet and laying laminate flooring in one of our bedrooms. I knew that the bending and stooping involved in this would likely set off the back pain I experience occasionally. Prior to beginning the job, I did the exercise shown in the video below. Doing this and repeating it about every hour during the job prevented any back pain the day of the work, and for the days and weeks afterward. Please enjoy this video below. Please remember that if you are currently experiencing back pain, you should see a physical therapist or other health care professional prior to trying this exercise. Also this exercise may not be appropriate for individuals with certain medical conditions such as spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, or shoulder problems. I hope you find this video helpful!
Dry needling is a relatively new treatment within physical therapy, but it is gaining support from both research and patient outcomes as a promising intervention not only for pain, but for improving muscle function as well. As noted in the Dry Needling section of our "Services" page, this technique involves inserting a very fine needle through the skin into a trigger point, which is a chemical and mechanical "hot spot" in a muscle. These trigger points can do one of two things. Active trigger points create pain at the spot and/or at points distant from the trigger point ("referred" pain). For example, a trigger point in one of the muscles around the shoulder may produce pain there and/or in the head and neck. Latent trigger points are only painful when pressed or when targeted by dry needling treatment. While these points do not produce active pain, the chemical and mechanical activity in these parts of the muscle may actually shut down or limit that muscle's ability to function properly, creating abnormal movement patterns that can lead to pain, limited mobility, and joint damage. There is also some evidence that these trigger points send messages back to the brain and spinal cord that, over time, can cause activation of other levels of the spinal cord and produce a more regional area of pain in the body.
For these reasons, Primary Solutions Physical Therapy decided to incorporate dry needling of trigger points into the services that we offer. Our therapist has undergone 54 hours of training, including many hours of lab practice both giving and receiving needling treatment. Dr. Gay was needled literally "from head to foot" during his two weekend training sessions, and can empathize with patients as they anticipate and experience this treatment. Dry needling is not necessarily comfortable, but the immediate and effective results can be remarkable. Dry needling is not for every patient, nor is it for every visit. With careful use as part of a comprehensive treatment plan, however, it may be a critical and important part of recovering maximum function and minimum pain.
While I have been blessed to not have experience with debilitating chronic pain, I have experienced an increase in discomfort and musculoskeletal problems over the last several years. As a physical therapist, I "know" what I need to do to work on these areas, but, like many of my patients, I struggle with time and discipline in implementing those strategies. In my case, my left shoulder and neck seem to be my nemesis. I have identified that stress (not really my circumstances, but more how I deal with them), diet, and posture play a huge role in my experience of pain. I can say from first-hand experience that pain is not only physical, but emotional as well. A few years ago I suffered a panic attack that led to months of struggle with anxiety and some levels of depression. It was during that time that this pain also increased and became more of a daily problem. Over the last 3-4 years I have fought the battle with physical pain, anxiety, weakness, fear, and a host of related issues. On the physical level, I have given more attention to posture and to areas where my body does not move well. I was fortunate earlier this year to spend time with my good friend Jonathan Zecher, owner of Focus Physiotherapy in Huntsville, Alabama. He not only provided me with some excellent hands-on treatment, but taught me about several new areas of research that are showing some interesting and powerful correlations between our physical and emotional experiences with pain and how it behaves and progresses. I'll plan to discuss this in more detail in upcoming posts. I am also learning how my diet impacts my pain, and how limiting my carbohydrate and refined sugar intake can have a profound effect on how I feel physically and mentally.
On the emotional side of the pain process, I have learned a lot about how my thinking and processing impacts my physical pain. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I know that I should be able to leave my stresses with Him, and not allow anxiety to rule my life. That is easier said than done on many days, however, and the physical experience of pain often exacerbates the emotional/spiritual aspect of the problem, and vice versa. I am learning that I need to be every bit as disciplined in my thinking and my spiritual life as I do in attending to my posture and other physical aspects in order to have good control of this area.
As I write this today, I am feeling the best I have felt in several months. I thank the Lord for a return of joy and gladness in my heart, and a decrease in pain. I am thankful for what I am learning on this journey. I know that it is not over, and I believe that at some level I will be engaged in this battle for the rest of my life, but I am thankful for what I am learning in the process. It is making me a better person, a better Christian, and gives me a more empathetic connection with the patients I am privileged to serve.
For some additional information on the connections between the physical and emotional aspects of pain, and how physical therapy can impact both, please click here. Stay tuned for further posts on this and other topics!