Holistic Physical Therapy for Chronic Pain

Holistic Physical Therapy for Chronic Pain

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How often do we feel pain? Unfortunately, for some of us, it is a daily and constant experience. As many of you can attest to, chronic pain can become a major obstacle to leading a full and active life.

Imagine being able to play tennis regularly or go for morning walks with a friend, but then you begin to experience knee pain every time you play or when you walk for too long. This type of pain can cause a person to become sedentary. Once our movement is limited, then we begin to experience other areas of pain from the lack of movement. It can be a dreary picture.

Traditional Physical Therapy

Commonly, a person may seek out a Physical Therapist when they experience chronic joint pain. Traditional Physical Therapy may be helpful for a person with joint pain. But often, it is limited in success because the person has many underlying issues that could be contributing to their pain and joint problem. Often, we don’t realize that the joint pain is the effect, rather than the cause.

In the last couple of decades, there has been a significant shift in our general health. There seems to be more cases of infection and inflammation induced illness, such as Lyme disease or fibromyalgia. Whereas, historically, a person would walk into a Physical Therapy clinic with a ‘clear-cut’ history of a car accident or back injury, today, our histories are much more complex. We complicate these injuries with additional inflammatory syndromes that can prolong healing, not to mention that they can contribute to other problems such as digestive issues and immune challenges. Using solely a traditional approach today is often not enough to help us reach optimal health. In some instances, a traditional approach is very aggressive and invasive.

Holistic Physical Therapy

This is a different approach to chronic pain. As a Physical Therapist, we look at movement and posture. As a Holistic Physical Therapist, in addition to these very important factors, we consider the whole body. Holistic Physical Therapy uses a gentle form of bodywork called Integrative Manual Therapy or IMT to locate underlying reasons for why someone experiences chronic pain. By using Integrative Manual Therapy to treat these underlying problems, relief from chronic pain can be achieved.

For example, when there are biomechanical or joint problems at the low back, a traditional approach of stretching and exercise can stretch out stiff muscles and loosen joints but often this type of approach does not affect the tight joints which may be more contributing to the person’s pain and symptoms. Smooth and painless movement comes from normal joint mobility and alignment.

Muscle spasm that often accompanies chronic pain may be symptomatically helped with heat or cold. When a muscle is in spasm, stretching and/or exercise does not release the spasm. Holistic Physical Therapy techniques such as gentle hands-on IMT can restore mobility to the spine and lower back, correct the position of the pelvis and the sacrum, and restore normal alignment between the lumbar spine and the sacrum. Once the joint alignment is restored, and there is less inflammation in the region, stretching and exercise will be much more effective to help create more movement. After the muscle spasm is released, the normal muscle tissue helps to maintain joint mobility, which can then allow the person to return to stretching and exercise programs.

Causes of Chronic Pain

In addition to treatment of joint alignment with IMT, there are many underlying causes for why a person might experience chronic pain, not necessarily related to a particular injury. Often, chronic pain is contributed to by inflammation, digestive problems, circulation issues, and much more. When there is something in the body that is requiring protection (for example, circulation or immune related), the body’s tendency is to inhibit movement—to ‘lock up’. This lack of movement can cause pain and stiffness which is persistent. Holistic Physical Therapy uses a comprehensive assessment process to identify underlying causes of chronic pain. Once these sites of dysfunction are found, a customized treatment plan can be developed to treat the underlying issues and help to restore normal movement in the body.

The goal of Holistic Physical Therapy is to create long-lasting sustainable changes in a person’s health and movement so that the person can return to a full and active life. To be successful in this goal, it is important to consider the whole body, not just the painful joint or joints. Traditional Physical Therapy would help the person attain greater movement in a joint, but the changes might not last if there is inflammation or other underlying reasons for the joint problem. The joint compression, often, is the effect, not the cause of the problem. By getting a broader view of the body to see what might be influencing the joint or joints, we can guide the person towards pain-free living.

Ayelet Connell-Giammatteo, PhD, PT, IMT, C is the President and Owner of Integrative Wellness and Physical Therapy in Bloomfield, CT. This wellness center specializes in holistic physical therapy, integrative manual therapy (IMT), and nutritional wellness. Dr. Connell-Giammatteo is a physical therapist and certified integrative manual therapist. She has been practicing in the field of IMT for over 15 years and has taught courses both nationally and abroad. Dr. Connell-Giammatteo received her bachelor’s degree in physical therapy from The University of Hartford, in Connecticut. She received her doctoral degree from Union Institute & University in Cincinnati, Ohio, focusing in neuropediatrics, with a concentration in autism. She has written many articles about IMT, healthy living, natural parenting, and nutritional wellness. Dr. Connell-Giammatteo was Dean of the Connecticut School of Integrative Manual Therapy (CSIMT) for several years. She is also a local of this community and has been living in the Greater Hartford area for many years, where she integrates a healthy lifestyle at home with her wonderful family.