Grinning and bearing it may cause you to bear much more joint, muscle and bone pain than necessary. That’s right. Despite all the new technologies, advanced techniques and improved treatments on the market, the best thing you can do for yourself when an ache, pain or injury creeps up is see a healthcare professional as soon as possible.

In the acute stage of an injury, inflammation and pain occurs, so the natural response is to favor that painful joint and not move it. But immobility won’t help it heal, and favoritism causes additional stress on your uninjured joints. Seeing a physical therapist early on helps to you stretch and increase the mobility of the inflamed joint and decrease the pitfalls of favoring a joint.

“The problem with grinning and bearing it is that you do too much substitution, and aggravate other things,” explains Ellen Lorentz, a physical therapist at Spectrum Rehabilitation, part of Christ Hospital. “We have a lot of people that injure their knee, walk with a limp and then inflame the opposite hip. In the long term, they are doing themselves a disservice.”
 
Put Time on Your Side

Why would someone wait to seek treatment? According to Lorentz, many fear the chunk of time they’ll have to dedicate to the healing process, while others consider their injury or pain to be too minimal for medical attention.
 
Lorentz says she sees all kinds of patients, from the avid athlete or weekend warrior to the casual golfer or gardener. If a fear of time-consuming physical therapy sessions is keeping you from seeing a therapist at the first sign of pain or injury, Lorentz says her patients with acute injuries are pleasantly surprised to find that — when caught in the early stage — they typically see marked improvement within two weeks.

But you should expect some downtime, though. Chad Madarang, a physical therapist at Freiberg Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Physical Therapy in Kenwood, says he tells his patients there are no quick fixes. Once an injury occurs, healing needs to be first on the priority list.
“Returning to sports, work or recreational activities will depend on the extent and severity of injury,” Madarang notes. “I always tell my patients…they have to avoid any activity that can trigger or aggravate their condition, as this will slow down recovery time.”

Shelly Bolte, a physical therapist with Mercy Health Partners at the Eastgate Rehabilitation Center, says two weeks is too long for an ache or pain. “You need to really listen to your body,” she says. “If you’re not feeling much better in two weeks, you need to seek attention.”

According to Bolte, physical therapists are trained at assessing the cause of your pain, developing a program to best assess the injury and helping you progress. “Coming in earlier is better. If you see your therapist, you get started on the right foot faster,” she adds.
 
Common Conditions

Madarang says the most common injury he treats is low back pain, accompanied by some form of radicular symptom, such as weakness or numbness in legs and/or feet. This type of injury is most commonly seen in people who sit for long periods of time at work (such as business professionals, administrative assistants, teachers or truck drivers) and those who do repetitive bending: parents caring for small children, elderly caregivers, landscapers and construction workers.

The second most common type of injury involves the shoulder, such as rotator cuff tears and scapular dyskinesia, the technical term for scapular instability. “These injuries happen to business people who consider themselves ‘avid athletes’ and self proclaimed ‘weekend warriors,’ but are poorly conditioned,” explains Madarang. “They fail to realize that being active does not exclude them from ‘wear and tear’ type of injury that is associated with rotator cuff injuries.”

But regardless of the patient’s injury, Madarang says the ultimate goal is to maintain a conditioning program for areas of the body that are prone to injury. Stretching and strengthening exercises enable people to maintain their active lifestyles, while preventing injuries from happening or re-occurring long after they’re done with therapy.
 
Patient Programs

Although they may share the same “physical therapist” title, therapists are not all the same. In fact, they are drastically diverse, depending on their specialty. Take these specialties and available rehab programs into account when deciding which physical therapy professional is best for you.

For example, Bolte has a Master’s degree in Manual Orthopaedic Therapy, which focuses on soft tissue mobilization and hands-on skills. Being an expert on this approach, Bolte says she tends to shy away from new technologies and modalities such as ultrasound and infrared light therapy.

“I don’t think modalities are what cures anyone,” she says. “I have a very hands-on approach, and that’s worked for me for more than 20 years.”

Madarang, on the other hand, is developing a new program to treat cervical/thoracic and lumbar pain, with or without radicular symptoms. He says it’s proving to be very effective.

“The program is to help patients recover from low back pain, neck and upper back pain and eliminate radiating pain," he explains. "The program has a lot to do with postural awareness and a very specific home program that focuses on healing,” In fact, he adds, 90 percent of a patient’s therapy will happen in his or her own time and, as always, success is greater when the patient is consistent in following instructions.
Lorentz says she does a lot of old-fashioned icing at first to reduce inflammation. Then, after the acute stage, she does conditioning of the joint. To ease inflammation and pain during this process, she uses electrical stimulation therapy. In addition, she offers Iontophoresis to patients that need a blend of electrical stimulation and medications to reduce inflammation and relieve pain. Iontophoresis is a process in which anti-inflammatory drugs, usually dexamethasone and lidocaine, are introduced into a joint or small body part via electrical current. Lorentz says this therapy is non-invasive and painless, without the potential side effects and adverse reactions that can occur with medications delivered orally or by injection.
 
Alternative Approach

Because of his own journey through pain, Richard Rossiter of North College Hill created The Rossiter System, a series of more than 150 stretches that two people do together. Unlike conventional stretches, he explains, his system focuses entirely on connective tissue, which is the strong, stretchy network of fascia, ligaments and tendons that attach muscles to each other and muscles to bones. Furthermore, this approach focuses on the epimysium, perimysium and endomysium: the smallest and most abundant level of connective tissue.

Rossiter believes pain is not a reason to take pills, wear splints or have surgery. To him, pain is merely information for you to act upon. “Pain means that you have to stretch out your connective tissue system so that everything can move freely again, and so that everything inside your body has the appropriate ‘space’ it needs to move without hurting," he explains. “All I do is help you create ‘space’ inside your body so it doesn’t hurt, throb, pinch, strain, pull or ache all the time.”

While Rossiter isn’t a licensed physical therapist, nor are the majority of his fleet of Rossiter-trained practitioners, he says many people with orthopedic pain are seeking alternatives to surgery and drugs.

“Because of scar tissue, you will never be able to get your body back to what it was before it was subjected to shots or surgery,” Rossiter observes. “Any invasion into the body creates more scar tissue. My focus is on restoring healthy tissue. You can never un-inject an injection site or un-cut tissue after surgery, but you can always stretch out healthy tissue that’s too tight.”

Rossiter says his typical clients are interested in taking responsibility for their own bodies and their own recovery. “I want people who truly believe that the body has an innate and natural ability to heal itself, given the right tools, time and space,” he comments. “I want people who are willing to go after their pain, not away from it, and who are willing to stretch as hard as possible to loosen up their own connective tissue.”
The Rossiter method requires the sufferer to do stretching workouts with a partner. “If you’re in pain, you lie on the floor on a foam mat, and I anchor your tissue in place with my foot while I coach you through a series of powerful stretching techniques, each one specifically designed for a specific body part or problem.” Usually, each 10-second stretch technique is repeated once or twice. After about 30 minutes, sufferers are ready to resume normal activities.