Living with chronic pain can be challenging and overwhelming. It can affect every aspect of a teen’s or young adult’s life, from their ability to work, study, and socialize, to their mental and emotional well-being. Physical therapy is one of the most common and important treatments for chronic pain, but it seems that many of our teens or young adult patients are scared of getting better with physical therapy sessions.
Among a few possible reasons is that they may feel anxious about the potential pain of the therapy, and worried or uncertain about the process. So, why might those patients be scared of getting better with physical therapy sessions for chronic pain? And how can they overcome these fears?
For many people, the fear of starting physical therapy is a significant factor in their reluctance to seek such therapy for their chronic pain. They might be unsure of what to expect, what the therapy will do, and how it will affect their pain. This fear can be exacerbated by previous negative experiences with medical treatments or other forms of therapy, as most of our patients with chronic pain have already sought different medical treatments before starting physical therapy.
Overcoming the Fear of Physical Therapy
To overcome this fear, it is essential to understand what is the purpose of physical therapy and how it can help. Physical therapy is a non-invasive treatment that should help to reduce pain and improve function through exercise, manual therapy, and most importantly, the patient’s education.
I always try to develop a personalized and customized treatment plan that addresses my patient’s unique and specific needs and goals. By understanding what to expect and how the therapy can help -- as well as actively participating in their treatment plan -- teens and young adults can feel more comfortable and confident in their decision to seek physical therapy for their chronic pain.
Another common fear about physical therapy for chronic pain is the fear of pain itself. Many people may worry that the therapy might be painful or will make their pain worse, as pain is so present in their daily life already. This fear can be particularly challenging for young people who have experienced physical or emotional trauma, or who might have a low tolerance for pain.
I always try to listen carefully to my patients’ feedback and work with them to ensure that the therapy is comfortable and manageable. I also monitor the progress and adjust the sessions as needed -- taking two steps forward and one step back, when necessary -- to ensure that we are getting the best results without exacerbating the patient's pain.
Overcoming the Fear of Getting Better
It might be scary to young patients to imagine life without chronic pain, as they have felt this state for such a long time. Many teens and young adults with chronic pain are used to their pain and have developed coping mechanisms to deal with it.
The idea of getting better with physical therapy might also be scary because it represents a significant change in their lives -- going back to school, going back to a more active daily life, and increasing their responsibilities. They may be concerned about how they will adapt to a pain-free life. Or these young patients may also worry about losing their position in the eyes of their close relatives as someone who suffers from chronic pain.
To overcome these fears, it is very important for the young patient to focus on the positive benefit and outcome of physical therapy. It is important to understand that physical therapy can improve their quality of life in many ways. By reducing the pain, young patients may be able to do a little bit more every day, including socializing more and engaging in joyful activities that were once too painful or challenging. With the physical therapist's help, young patients can gradually adjust to these changes and learn new coping mechanisms that can help maintain their progress.
Physical therapy can be a powerful tool for managing chronic pain, but it's normal to feel scared or uncertain about the process. I have seen this in most of my patients with chronic pain. By understanding the common fears associated with physical therapy for chronic pain and learning how to overcome them -- and with good guidance by a qualified physical therapist who works with chronic pain patients regularly and understands their fears and expectations -- patients will feel more confident in their decision to seek treatment.