A physical therapist addresses issues which contribute to chronic pain, including the loss of muscle strength, flexibility, range of motion, or mobility. No matter what the source of your chronic pain, the job of a physical therapist is to evaluate you and then identify ways to help.

A physical therapist at a clinic like Eastern Shore Physical Therapy can help you manage your chronic pain by instructing you on how to:

Increase the production of dopamine. When you exercise, your body releases more of these feel-good endorphins -- or natural pain relievers -- which helps decrease chronic pain. Endorphins boost your mood and block pain messages to the brain, making you less sensitive to the sensation of pain. Aerobic and cardiovascular exercise, including walking, swimming, and biking, help release endorphins.

Increase your flexibility and strengthen your muscles and bones. Increased flexibility decreases pain, particularly pain related to stiff muscles and joints. If chronic joint pain is a problem, building stronger muscles takes pressure off the joints that help support your body.

Gentle stretches and breathing deeply as you stretch increase flexibility. When you can move better, you don't hurt as much. Strengthening exercises using weights or resistance bands build the muscles and bones surrounding your joints.

Since muscles and bones work together, you can strengthen bones by performing weight-bearing exercises. When chronic pain prevents you from doing high-impact weight-bearing exercises such as jogging or running, walking on a treadmill or using a stair stepper machine provides lower-impact exercise to build bone density. If you suffer chronic back pain, your muscles and bones both need to be strong.

Improve the quality of your sleep. Not getting enough sleep, or getting poor quality sleep, can lead to a lower pain threshold, which can actually increase chronic pain. Research shows that regular aerobic activity can improve both the quality and duration of your sleep. Exercise releases epinephrine -- a hormone that helps improve mood -- and relaxes the body. Because exercise physically stresses the body, a common reaction is deeper sleep. The body also releases growth hormone when you sleep. Growth hormone helps the body's tissues heal and rejuvenate.

Decrease muscle tension and stress. A physical therapist can instruct you in relaxation exercises to help you feel less anxious. Besides distracting you from the intensity of the pain, feeling relaxed can help you have a more positive outlook. Feeling more positive overall may help you cope more effectively with pain.

Maintain a healthy weight. Studies indicate that individuals who are overweight and obese often suffer from chronic pain syndromes such as back pain, migraine headache, abdominal pain, fibromyalgia, or osteoarthritis. Being overweight puts increased pressure on the body's joints, which can lead to localized or widespread pain. Although a physical therapist can offer advice on what exercises will work best for you, it's still important for you to be aware of your limits.

Follow an exercise program appropriate for you. As part of your pain management team, a physical therapist will develop an exercise program for you that is both safe and effective. Like anyone else beginning a new exercise program, you need to start with low-impact exercises and gradually increase the intensity and duration of your activity.

Physical therapists generally focus on stretching exercise to improve range of motion to begin. Stretching prepares your body for more intense exercise, but you need to know how to do stretching exercise right. It's important to keep an exercise program manageable by setting small goals at first and then step up the pace once you feel confident that you can do more. A physical therapist will help you determine what stretching exercises you can do without making your pain worse.