To "rehabilitate" means to put something back in good condition or restore to an optimal state of health. In medicine, rehabilitation can take several forms — including physical therapy, occupational therapy and recreational therapy. And while these practices might not return someone to a pain-free state, they do offer several strategies to help reduce symptoms and improve quality of life.

Physical therapy focuses on reducing pain through a regular exercise program that incorporates flexibility, aerobic and strengthening exercises. Physical therapy is primarily based on proper body mechanics — using muscles and joints correctly to limit pain.

Even when you have pain, movement is important. In fact, movement helps speed recovery and might even help prevent acute pain from becoming chronic pain. A physical therapist will tailor an exercise program to your individual condition and goals. Depending on the source of the pain, a physical therapist will recommend different treatments and exercises.

A physical therapist can also use integrative medicine procedures, such as:

  • Biofeedback, which uses technology to teach you how to control certain body responses to help relieve some types of pain
  • Chiropractic manipulation, which can help relieve neck and low back pain
  • Massage and other soft tissue therapies that can relax muscles and improve blood flow

Pain can keep you from taking part in your normal activities, including going to work or having fun with family or friends. Occupational therapy helps provide skills and strategies to help manage pain, so it interferes less with daily life — allowing you to engage in your life even if full pain relief isn't possible.

Occupational therapy is a holistic practice, meaning that it addresses both mind and body. An occupational therapy program combines stress reduction techniques, physical exercises that address areas of pain and cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps you recognize how thoughts contribute to pain, and how changing these thoughts can help manage the pain.

Recreational therapy restores health and wellness using recreation activities, such as water therapy, horseback riding or gardening. It may also include exercises that stretch and strengthen muscles and connective tissues, such as yoga, tai chi and qi gong. These exercises help reduce pain by encouraging relaxation and deep breathing. Recreational therapy can help reduce pain from osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, low back pain or any pain that can benefit from stretching and relaxation, such as menstrual cramps. One form of recreational therapy, music therapy, has been shown to help reduce postoperative pain — as well as the amount of oral pain relievers needed during recovery.

Pain rehabilitation programs explore various ways to help control pain and identify factors that contribute to pain. These programs are generally intended for individuals who have experienced a significant decline in daily functioning and quality of life as a result of chronic pain.

In most pain rehabilitation programs, a pain professional, pain psychologist and other specialists work together as an interdisciplinary team. They incorporate cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to help identify and replace negative thoughts and unhealthy behaviors. This can help you get back to your regular activities and improve your quality of life. The program might also include physical therapy, occupational therapy, recreational therapy, biofeedback, relaxation techniques, stress management and complementary medicine.

July 26, 2016