Can Physical Therapy Help with THAT?

Dr. Henry Curme, PT, DPT
June 22, 2021

If you’ve found yourself Googling odd aches, pains, and discomforts into the night, especially recently, you’re not alone. In fact, over the past year, searches for “why does my [insert body part] hurt?” have seen a dramatic increase on Google. 

“Why does my shoulder hurt when I lift my arm?” — that search went up by 450% last year. “Why does my toe hurt when I walk?” — up by 650%. And, thanks to some increased stay-at-home sitting, there’s been a whopping 2,700% increase in searches for “why does the top of my butt crack hurt?” All valid questions, but I’d be willing to bet that most of those people did not follow those searches up with their doctors.

For many of us, we learn to ignore these odd aches and pains, and, after diligent Googling turns up some less than helpful results, we often dismiss our own concerns and, to use an unfortunate and not at all productive turn of phrase, learn to “suck it up”.  Again, if this sounds like you, you are absolutely not alone.

In this blog series, we’ll attempt to answer some of the most common questions about pain, movement, and impingement AND tell you whether or not PT can help with that! 

So, let’s get started!


To start us off, let’s talk about what physical therapy is. How does it work? In general, physical therapists use movement as medicine, whether hands-on manual therapy or therapeutic exercises. 

Physical therapists offer some of the most wide-ranging treatments and can often provide quickly available solutions for people in need of help. Physical therapists are also trained in recognizing instances when they cannot help you and must refer you to another healthcare provider. For example, a patient’s back pain could be caused by a kidney problem instead of muscle spasms or joint pain. 


Now that you know what physical therapy is, you might be wondering if it can actually help you. The answer is, most likely, yes. There’s a joke among physical therapists that the answer to every question is “it depends.” In this case, the answer depends on whether moving your body is bothersome to you in some way, whether painful or not painful.

If so, then it’s likely that physical therapy can help you! Even if you’re not experiencing discomfort, if you feel limited or held back, you could benefit from physical therapy, strengthening, and improved physical function


Let’s take a minute to talk about pain. It’s important to know that pain is not the only indication that you could benefit from physical therapy. It’s also important to remember that not all pain is the same, and not everyone experiences pain the same way. Researchers have been investigating the correlation between pain and psychosocial factors for at least the past twenty years.

The mind-body connection is real, and we have to be willing to accept that every person’s pain will not always fit neatly into a highly subjective 1 to 10 scale. Ultimately, if you do seek out physical therapy or another form of bodywork and wellness, it’s essential that your practitioner take the time to listen to your experience and provide an individualized treatment plan to address your specific circumstances.

So, let’s say you are experiencing pain. Can physical therapy help with that?

My _____ hurts. Can physical therapy help with that?

It depends. While it’s normal to encounter aches or pains in life, they should resolve on their own within a few days. Pain that lasts longer than that is usually a sign of something persistent that may not go away on its own or may keep coming back. Pain in certain areas of the body or with certain movements can also be clues that you should speak with your physician. Your physical therapist is trained to recognize these warning signs and will let you know when it might be time to call your doctor.

The most common sources of pain that physical therapists are trained to work with are muscle pain, tendon pain, and joint pain. Tendonitis, arthritis, muscle strains, and sprains are very common, and the good news is that most are treatable. 

Seeing a physical therapist shortly after injury can accelerate recovery and help prevent the pain from coming back. Even if you find yourself thinking, “it’s not really pain, but I can feel it,” or “it’s more of an ache,” or “it doesn’t hurt that much,” it can be considered pain. Mild pain is still pain, and seeking treatment when appropriate can help resolve the pain before it gets worse, and ensure that treatment takes fewer visits to resolve, so you get results faster.

If you aren’t sure whether your pain is serious enough for treatment or not, ask yourself: does this pain or discomfort interfere with my quality of life? If so, you deserve to have your pain investigated. Even if your condition is likely to resolve on its own without further treatment, physical therapists can help determine that with a single appointment and give you peace of mind. Additionally, many physical therapists offer Free Consultations, without any charge to you or your insurance company. These appointments give you the opportunity to discuss the basics of your symptoms and ask questions about your insurance benefits or anything else before making any formal appointment.

Physical therapists believe in your right to make an informed decision about how you manage your body and health. 

What if I experience chronic pain?

Chronic pain is defined as pain that doesn’t go away or keeps coming back for longer than 3 months. People with chronic pain often seek out a variety of treatments and answers for a long time without finding any relief. However, there are treatments for chronic pain that can increase quality of life, help people move more and better without flare-ups, and sometimes reduce the pain in part or completely.

What if my pain is sharp or dull? What if my pain came out of nowhere?

So, what if your pain is a little different? Pain when chewing food could come from the TMJ or joint where the jaw meets the skull. Some headaches are caused by tight or weak muscles in the neck. Pain and problems during urination or sexual intercourse could be a sign of pelvic floor dysfunction. People with amputated or missing limbs sometimes still feel the limb, even if it is no longer present. Nerve pain such as sciatica in the legs can come from the low back. Pain with movement may not come from muscles or joints at all but could come from issues with nerve tension or internal organ adhesions.

Every single condition noted here, and many not noted, can be improved, or resolved completely with the help of a physical therapist. Every part of your body must move with you, and sometimes parts of it need a little more help so that you can move without pain or impingement. When in doubt, get it checked out!


Pain isn’t always the end all, be all of seeking care. It’s often a more immediate concern, but just because something doesn’t hurt per se doesn’t mean it isn’t worth addressing. If pain is not your main concern, but you still have a concern, or even just a desire to understand your body better, physical therapy can likely help here as well. Many conditions can negatively affect quality of life, even if they are not always considered painful. 

The Curious Case of the Click-Thud

My wife loves to tell the story of her chronic ankle sprain (and don’t worry, I have her permission to share). At a previous job, she frequently wore high heels at the office. While walking the long, empty corridor to her desk each day, she noticed a strange pattern. Every step with her right foot made the familiar heel click on the tile floor. Every step with her left foot made a much louder, deeper thud. Click, thud, click, thud. No matter what she did, she couldn’t stop the thudding. She denied feeling pain. Neither ankle was swollen. But something was...wrong

After investigation with her own physical therapist (I can’t take the credit here), she discovered that she had most likely experienced a history of both low and high ankle sprains on the left side, which had led to overstretched ligaments, muscle weakness of the foot and lower leg, and an increased risk of reinjury.

The muscular weakness that had developed in the absence of a rehabilitation program could not effectively distribute her body weight when stepping on her left leg, and to compensate, she took slightly shorter strides with her left leg, resulting in the “thudding” sound when her shoe contacted the floor.

“Is that why I roll my ankle all the time?” 

We often use language like this to describe those short, acute moments of pain that subside fairly quickly. But even when the pain doesn’t subside right away, we can convince ourselves that it’s not worth mentioning. And, often, when the pain goes away on its own, we don’t notice the other effects until we suddenly become aware of them again.

My wife had spent years of her life “rolling her ankle” more and more often, half-limping around town, and dismissing the pain as only an occasional 2 or a 3 out of 10 that didn’t warrant care. Until, the click-thudding began. Then, she became aware of her ankle again. And aware of the discomfort she had been feeling for years.

For my wife, physical therapy gave her an “aha” moment about her ankle, which gave her another “aha” moment about her hip pain she’d forgotten to mention, which gave her another “aha” moment about her hesitation to go for long runs and do yoga, and so on.

What could be the start of your "aha" moment? A tingling in your elbow? A clicking in your knee? Sometimes we may not notice the pain, but the auditory feedback from our bodies can be useful too!

What if I experience dizziness, nausea, or vertigo with movement?

Dizziness, nausea, and vertigo can be horrible to endure and limit the activities you do, but not always what people would call painful. PT can help manage and decrease the symptoms of dizziness that can come with conditions such as post-concussion syndrome or low blood pressure. Even more, some conditions such as benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) can be completely resolved within a few appointments.


Physical therapists can help improve balance and reduce the risk of painful and dangerous falls from a multitude of different conditions. 

When someone sustains a new injury or their condition worsens, their mobility needs may change. To help improve walking or navigating stairs, physical therapists can help decide what assistive device to use such as wheelchairs, walkers, canes, or crutches, as well as how to adjust their size and how to use them effectively. If someone wanted to use a different device, such as a cane instead of a walker, then a physical therapist could potentially help improve their balance enough to make that safely possible.


Sometimes flexibility can get worse without any pain — at least at first. Decreased flexibility and range of motion may not hurt right away, but it can lead to problems in the future, such as affecting the way you walk or your ability to reach overhead, put on and take off clothes, and complete daily chores. Physical therapy can help restore this flexibility before it becomes permanent or more painful.

Some kinds of swelling that occur, such as edema or lymphedema, can be painful or painless but also come with other unwelcome changes, such as difficulty moving the limb due to its increased weight, inability to fit in clothes or shoes one normally wears, decreased flexibility in the affected body part, changes to the skin such as stretch marks, and poor body image. Physical therapists can help reduce swelling and provide you the tools to prevent it from coming back.


Conditions such as Huntington’s disease, dystonia, ataxia, Parkinson’s disease, chorea, athetosis, and some tics can result in loss of conscious movement control. Usually these movements cannot be controlled or controlling them requires such intense mental effort that no other task can be performed at the same time.

While these conditions can at times be directly painful, at other times, it can impair life in different ways, such as an inability to perform hobbies, chores, and driving; embarrassment in public or social situations; difficulty with accessing necessary healthcare procedures such as MRI exams or dental procedures; or increased risk of falling or striking a limb on other people, buildings, or furniture. 

While some of these conditions cannot be fully cured yet, with physical therapy and appropriate medical care, many people with these conditions can decrease the severity of their symptoms, decrease the risk of secondary injury, slow the progression of their disease, and increase their quality of life.


Physical therapy offers scientifically-proven safe and effective treatments. Despite this, there is a common misconception that physical therapy is only for severe injuries or surgical recovery. As a result, the American Physical Therapy Association has launched an informational campaign called #ChoosePT to spread awareness about what PT can do to help with injury prevention, recovery, strengthening, preparing for a surgery, reducing or relieving pain, and more. In particular, physical therapy is underutilized for conditions, such as low back pain, arthritis, cancer, and neurological disorders. When in doubt, the odds are in your favor that physical therapy can help!

If you want to learn more about how physical therapy can help you, visit

If you’ve never tried physical therapy before, book a free new patient consultation on our website to tour our office, meet our practitioner, and get your questions answered before you commit.

To book a free consultation, click here.

Then, complete the patient information form and select a “Free 15-Minute Consultation” appointment from our practice calendar.

If you have any questions, feel free to email us at or text/call us at (360) 312-4901.

Take the first step toward something more.