Includes movement (by yourself or guided by another person), heat/cold, TENS, acupuncture, ultrasound, massage (to yourself or by someone else) and should always include a combination of these things, not just one, or it really isn't physical therapy.
Muscles, tendons and ligaments that don't move get shorter and lose their function over time. "If you don't use it, you lose it!" Neuroplasticity (nerve growth) can make it easier and easier to feel pain at the same time.
Physical exercise improves your strength, endurance, mood, balance, co-ordination and flexibility. Physical exercise can reduce pain, spasms, and swelling.
And yet, because of the shorter fibers and new nerve growth, some people with chronic pain become afraid of movement, thinking it will hurt them more. More often than not, this will not occur. Getting a specific targeted exercise program for yourself, that gradually builds up your strength and flexibility over time is key to success.
Stretching, walking, hot and cold therapies, topicals (putting on the skin), TENS machines, and self-massage and acupressure can all be done at home!
Stretching should be slow, steady and last at least 30 seconds to have a real effect. Avoid bouncing or jerking with any stretching.
Hot and cold therapy is just that - some times body parts will feel better with an ice pack (cover your skin first with a tea towel and then place your ice pack over top, wrap in place and leave on 20 minutes after your painful area goes numb) and some times will feel wonderful with a hot shower, a paraffin wax dip (for the hands or feet), or putting on a heating pad (don't leave on for longer than 20 minutes even if it feels good).
TENS machines (example here) work by distracting your spinal cord from sending pain signals up to your brain. The machines that are sold in most pharmacies or department stores are also EMS machines (electrical muscle stimulation device). These are similar, but instead of producing high frequency pulses like a TENS, they produce low frequency signals that produce motor contraction (muscle twitch). There is not great evidence about these, but if they work for you, then you have another weapon in your fight against pain. ***NOTE: always follow the directions on these machines***
Self-massage and acupressure can be done with your hands or with special balls, rollers, and other strange looking instruments (see the theracane video below). By massaging out trigger points or providing sustained pressure on a trigger point, you can relieve pain in the area. See some of the videos below for how to do this. These can be picked up at most sporting goods stores, yoga studios, and online.
Self massage techniques for levator scapulae muscle pain - often involved in neck pain and headaches.
This short video does a nice job of introducing the use of the theracane tool to perform "myofascial release" (help massage out tight muscles).
A more advanced example of how to stretch out the buttocks and hips using a massage ball and just the weight of your own body. Start slow and move up gradually.
Videos from the Ontario Rapid Access Clinics for Low Back Pain
This page contains a number of patient education resources.
TAPMI is the central pain clinic in Toronto and has created online learning modules to improve quality of life, avoid flares, stay active and improve your sleep.