You are in pain. You have taken some over-the-counter pain medication but want to do more. Now what?
First, what is pain?
Put simply, pain is your body’s defense system. Special nerves (called nociceptors) detect that damage is being done to the body. The nerves send a pain message to your brain, telling it to do something to prevent further damage. The brain receives that message and you will feel pain. The brain then responds, for example, sending a message to the muscles in your hand to move your finger off the hot baking sheet.
Not only does everyone feel pain differently there are different types of pain: acute and chronic.
This type of pain is caused by something specific, such as an injury or illness, and it happens quite suddenly. Some causes of acute pain include:
- Broken bones
- Labour and delivery
How pain is felt can be described as mild or sharp and last a minute or a few months. Acute pain goes away when the reason for the pain goes away. For example, the pain will disappear once your broken arm or burn is healed.
- Headaches and migraines
- Arthritis (including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid)
- Nerve damage and pain
- Some forms of back pain
You may also find yourself in chronic pain even after an acute illness or injury has healed. In these cases, your nerves keep sending pain messages to your brain about damage that no longer exists. Researchers still don’t have a great understanding about this form of chronic pain, which makes rehabilitation for this type of pain hard to manage.
Athletic Therapy and managing pain
While the types of pain are different, they both can be helped with athletic therapy.
“Athletic Therapists are experts at guiding patients towards a reduced pain or pain-free existence,” says Glenn Burke, a Certified Athletic Therapist and Clinical Director at Advanced Physiotherapy and Sports Medicine in Hamilton, Ontario.
Athletic therapy will focus on improving and managing your pain by reducing swelling, improving your range of motion and mobility, strengthening your muscles, increasing your flexibility and working on weaknesses in your body mechanics. For example, for chronic back pain, an Athletic Therapist could provide exercises to strengthen your core, increase your range of motion, retrain your posture and apply therapeutic taping.
Acute pain from a fracture for example, an Athletic Therapist could work on stretching techniques, strengthening the surrounding muscles for stability, bracing and taping – once your broken bone has healed.
“We can help teach people how to manage their pain in order to make them more comfortable, but also to increase their body’s healing abilities,” explains Glenn.
Each athletic therapy rehabilitation program will be different depending on your type of pain, and the underlying cause of the pain. The main thing, according to Glenn is that the therapy is a “collaborative approach between the patient and the Athletic Therapist. Trust is key.”
Glenn is the Clinical Director and Athletic Therapist at Advanced Physiotherapy & Sports Medicine in Hamilton, Ontario. He is the former medical manager of the Canadian wheelchair rugby team and was an AT with the Canadian Football League. Glenn is a hockey dad to two boys and husband to a very understanding wife!