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How Long Is Too Long? When To Seek Help for Pain

How Long Is Too Long? When To Seek Help for Pain

by Brandon Bowers, PT, DPT, Astym Cert.1 Comment

The majority of individuals have experienced some form of physical pain or injury over the course their lives. Some adopt the “no pain, no gain” mentality while others seek medical attention right away. Is it ok to “work through the pain”? What about taking a “wait and see” approach prior to seeking medical care? How long is too long to wait prior to receiving medical care for pain?

What is Pain?

Pain is described as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with, or resembling that associated with, actual or potential tissue damage.”1 For those who have experienced pain, it is definitely not a desirable experience and can lead to impairment of range of motion, strength, function and overall quality of life. Impairments in these areas can impact the ability to complete everyday tasks such as dressing, driving or doing laundry to name a few things. Pain can also lead to reduced effectiveness in the work place as well as depression. A study in 2010 revealed a high correlation between individuals with depression and the prevalence of pain.2

When to Seek Help for Pain

When does pain warrant medical attention and how long is too long to wait before seeking treatment? Let’s consider a classic example for a moment, you’re lifting something and you tweak your lower back. Your back tightens up, you feel muscle spasms and it is difficult for you to move. The next couple of days you find yourself on the couch laying on a heating pad and trying to stretch your lower back. The intensity of the pain begins to lessen but you still find yourself very uncomfortable; this is no way to live for an extended period of time. How about another example – you wake up one morning with an intense level of pain in your neck, a common “I slept funny” type scenario. Movement of the neck is difficult, you have a little bit of a headache and are uncomfortable. In this case, a few weeks go by and your neck still doesn’t feel quite back to normal.

When considering medical treatment for pain, physical therapy for example, there is a direct relation between early intervention and faster results/reduction of pain. Most people can agree pain is not a desirable experience and if given the opportunity, would choose to eliminate pain as quickly as possible. In a study of physical therapy for management of low back pain, individuals who received physical therapy care sooner observed a “more rapid improvement in function, mood, quality of life, and general health.”3 Another research study on low back pain identified individuals who received physical therapy sooner “had fewer physician visits, fewer restricted workdays, fewer days away from work, and shorter case duration.”4

How Physical Therapy Can Help

The moral of the story is this – the sooner you can seek medical attention following the onset of pain, the better. By doing so, you will have increased opportunity to resolve the pain more quickly, improve your function faster and get back to living your life. Early intervention with physical therapy may also lead to lower medical costs to you as a consumer. What’s not to like about that? Delayed initiation of physical therapy can still yield excellent functional improvement, reduction of pain symptoms and improvement in quality of life. However, the progression to achieve both personal and physical therapy goals may occur at a slower rate than those who opted for physical therapy as an early intervention.

If you are experiencing pain or injury, visit an Athletico near you for a free assessment. Free assessments are available in-clinic and virtually through our Telehealth platform.

Request a Free Assessment

Physical therapy is usually the thing you are told to do after medication, x-rays or surgery. The best way to fix your pain is to start where you normally finish – with physical therapy at Athletico.

The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.

1. Raja SN, Carr DB, Cohen M, Finnerup NB, Flor H, Gibson S, Keefe FJ, Mogil JS, Ringkamp M, Sluka KA, Song XJ, Stevens B, Sullivan MD, Tutelman PR, Ushida T, Vader K. The revised International Association for the Study of Pain definition of pain: concepts, challenges, and compromises. Pain. 2020 Sep 1;161(9):1976-1982. doi: 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000001939. PMID: 32694387; PMCID: PMC7680716.
2. Agüera-Ortiz L, Failde I, Mico JA, Cervilla J, López-Ibor JJ. Pain as a symptom of depression: prevalence and clinical correlates in patients attending psychiatric clinics. J Affect Disord. 2011 Apr;130(1-2):106-12. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2010.10.022. Epub 2010 Nov 4. PMID: 21055826.
3. Wand BM, Bird C, McAuley JH, Doré CJ, MacDowell M, De Souza LH. Early intervention for the management of acute low back pain: a single-blind randomized controlled trial of biopsychosocial education, manual therapy, and exercise. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2004 Nov 1;29(21):2350-6. doi: 10.1097/01.brs.0000143619.34308.b4. PMID: 15507794.
4. Zigenfus GC, Yin J, Giang GM, Fogarty WT. Effectiveness of early physical therapy in the treatment of acute low back musculoskeletal disorders. J Occup Environ Med. 2000 Jan;42(1):35-9. doi: 10.1097/00043764-200001000-00010. PMID: 10652686.

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1 Comment

  1. Kimberly Rachelle Vogt

    I’m in the most pain I’ve ever been in and I’ve been through some stuff!! I have RA and Fibromyalgia and a brain disease and and a few other things that I’m having surgery for but very scared too!!

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