For Physical Therapy In Spokane Valley Call Now! 509.892.5442

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How to “Stay Ahead of the Pain” and Advance to the 3rd Phase of Recovery

October 28, 2016
I’m working with a patient this week who’s been suffering from degenerative-type low back pain for the last several years.  His history includes the typical complaints: increased low back pain with prolonged sitting, difficulty standing for prolonged periods, and a gradual decrease in his ability to work around his shop at home.

That third complaint is the real reason Jerry started coming in for PT.  Like most people, he can tolerate a certain level of pain.  And if he can’t sit or stand for too long, that’s not the end of the world either…

But take away his ability to work in his shop, which he really enjoys, and now he’s ready to get some help!

Sound familiar? It’s basically the old “stubborn spouse” story…

Back to Jerry’s story: after coming in for his first 6 visits, he’s now doing really well.  His pain level has come down nicely, and he’s able to manage his pain with what he’s learned so far about the appropriate stretches and exercises.  Combined with the hands-on therapy, he’s really in a good position.

But (and this is a BIG but), he’s also reached a really critical point in his PT where one of 2 things can happen:

  1. He can maintain his current gains and stay feeling about the same.                                                                                                                                              – OR –
  1. He can continue to improve and very likely completely eliminate his back pain.

So what’s the trick to mastering option 2?

Answer: it’s time for Jerry to learn about “staying ahead of the pain.”

If you recall from an earlier blog post, I break down the healing process into what I call the “3 Phases of Recovery.”  Jerry’s made it through the first phase (pain reduction) and is now right in the middle of phase 2, where we’re focusing on improving his strength and flexibility.

In phase 2, Jerry is learning a lot about how he can treat his pain with various stretches and changes to his posture and body mechanics.

And while these tactics have been super beneficial for him, he’s really in a dangerous spot (which means he also has a huge opportunity).

Like I said above, the danger is that Jerry never makes it to the 3rd phase.  Or even worse, Jerry decides that “good enough is good enough”, so he stops his PT short and very likely starts to gradually slide back to where he started.

Here’s what I told Jerry this week about how he can advance to the 3rd phase and be done with PT once and for all! My explanation went something like this:


Jerry, you’re doing really well right now with the level of pain reduction you’ve experienced, and you’re now able to treat your pain when it bothers you.  In order to continue to make progress, you’re going to have to learn how to “stay ahead of the pain.” What this means is that instead of waiting until your lower back pain starts to bother you, you need to focus on what causes the back pain in the first place…

…you now know that when you do your specific stretches, they relieve your pain.  What you need to do now is to perform these stretches before your pain starts.  Even more importantly, you know that certain activities (like slouching when you sit, or bending/twisting with your back instead of using your legs) definitely contribute to your pain, so now you need to make some new HABITS.  Focus on always sitting with good posture and always lifting/working with good body mechanics…

…if you can master these habits, you will reach the 3rd phase of recovery, where you can really enjoy working in your shop, and you won’t have to keep bothering with “managing your pain.”


Did you catch the key to Jerry’s success?….. HABITS

Jerry must embrace some new habits in order to completely eliminate his low back pain and keep it from bothering him again in a couple months.

This type of mindset (call it a paradigm shift if you’d like) applies to nearly all of the people we work with at Gordon PT.  In the end, successful treatment really comes down to 2 things: uncovering the root cause of your pain and then creating new habits to remove the cause (with skilled physical therapy treatment bridging the gap between the two).

If you or a loved one have been struggling with just “managing the pain” and would like to make the shift to eliminating your pain, please call the clinic at 509.892.5442 to arrange a FREE 30-minute Discovery Visit with one of our expert PTs.

During your 30-minute consultation, your PT will tell you exactly what the root cause of your pain is, as well as what successful treatment would look like for you.




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Gordon Physical Therapy - Spokane Valley, WA

626 North Mullan Road #4, Spokane Valley, WA 99206

(509) 892-5442

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