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  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • September 2018
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The psychological side of pain: Orthopedic & Spine Therapy provides education and relief

What is pain?

We’ve all experienced it. And it’s a simple question. But the answer is complex and ever-changing. As much as pain is universal, it’s also highly individual and something two people will never experience in the same way.

“Pain is a form of high priority communication,” Steve Barnett, PT, and owner/founder of Orthopedic & Spine Therapy, says. “In other words, it’s our body telling us something isn’t right.”

“If there’s pain, there’s a reason,” Lisa Vivian, PT, CMTPT at Orthopedic & Spine Therapy, adds. “Pain is a good thing, it’s an alert system. It will tell you to limit this motion, or that motion. But when it turns into chronic pain the neurological system can get out of whack.”

The two major categories: acute pain (from the onset of pain up to three months) and chronic pain (any amount of time after that), whether it’s from an injury or insidious, are multi-factorial and the patient’s emotional and stress response all play a part in how it is experienced.

“Pain is an output of your brain,” Chase Hanson, PT, DPT, CMTPT at Orthopedic & Spine Therapy, explains. “There’s not necessarily pain sensors in your body per se. It’s not ‘in your head,’ but there are factors in someone’s brain that can make the pain worse or better.”

Explaining pain and your brain

Chances are you’ve heard, “Did it hurt?” in response to a particularly harrowing story or maybe in anticipation of common events like getting wisdom teeth pulled or childbirth. There are varying levels of pain and everyone has a different tolerance, but it’s not based on your body’s ability to handle it as you might suspect.

It’s your brain that makes pain.

According to The Explain Pain Handbook Protectometer, pain you experience does not necessarily relate to the amount of tissue damage you have sustained. And you — based on different personal factors like emotional experiences — determine your pain tolerance. Your brain also has the power to adjust and eliminate pain temporarily.

“For example, if you sprain your ankle and are writhing in pain and can’t walk but a bus is coming at you, you’re going to find a way to get up and run! And you’re probably not going to feel it until after the danger has passed,” Chase explains.

“Another example is someone who is trying to save their child and goes through something horrible,” Lisa says. “They might not feel pain until after it’s all done. Your brain is what decides whether or not it’s going to be painful at the time.”

When tissue is damaged, it elicits a response from your brain that causes you the pain. This also creates an “alarm system” to protect you, which is helpful and positive — but only while it’s necessary. The tissue heals after time, but the brain has a tougher time letting go.

“Over time your body is going to heal itself,” Steve says. “We can help with that, through exercise and therapy, but your brain needs to start thinking that way too. If it doesn’t, the brain stays at the onset of the pain.”

Many people think that pain means something harmful must be happening in their bodies. Therapists at Orthopedic & Spine Therapy work to change that negative thinking by recalibrating the brain and focusing on a more positive approach about what the person can and can’t do.

“It’s starting small, building confidence and educating them,” Chase says. “A lot of times it comes back to people being afraid to move because they’re going to hurt their back, but your back is really robust and it’s not just going to snap.”

“It’s a lot of education,” Lisa says. “It’s changing a patient’s perception of what their pain is and is not. What they’re able to do and not able to do.”

Why choose physical therapy for pain?

Orthopedic & Spine Therapy’s initiative is to help treat all types of pain before patients turn to medications.

“If a person has an injury or insidious onset of pain that doesn’t resolve in a couple of days, that’s when we feel physical therapy is the best choice,” Steve says. “We’re the musculoskeletal experts and if we can correct that problem the pain will go away quickly — you won’t turn into that chronic pain patient. We can avoid going the more involved medication route.”

They do so with full body evaluations in terms of the musculoskeletal neurological system to determine areas of restriction. Physical therapists look for asymmetry, range of motion restriction and tissue texture abnormalities.

Orthopedic & Spine Therapy uses a combination of manual physical therapy, osteopathic evaluation and treatment techniques like muscle energy principles, soft tissue, myofascial release, stretching, exercise, meditation and joint mobilization. Therapists use their hands to treat, as well as focus on identifying the cause of the problem rather than just treating the symptoms.

“A lot of it is empowering the person,” Chase explains. “If we can give you an exercise or stretch and teach you what’s happening to your body and how you can fix it yourself, it’s a lot more sustainable and people can really take ownership of their own pain. They’re better equipped to deal with it rather than thinking they need to be on medication to fix it.

“It’s more effective, less side effects, cheaper in the long run, more sustainable and you’re getting down to the root of the problem without masking it. Those are the highlights of physical therapy over just medication.”

Orthopedic & Spine Therapy has a holistic view of health and recognizes that pain expressed in one part of the body may not necessarily originate in the same area. Their goal is to always find the underlying cause of discomfort to accurately treat the problem. So, while you may come in for back pain, and your therapist will take that into account, they’ll consider your whole body to develop a treatment.

“It’s definitely an interdisciplinary approach,” Lisa explains. “It’s physical therapy but you combine it with psychology, diet and nutrition, stress release, finding support.”

“It is working on their pain and restoring some of the issues we find, but it’s also getting to know them and talking and answering any questions they may have,” Chase adds.

“We have the attitude that we treat others the way we ourselves would want to be treated. It’s a cornerstone of our values,” Steve says.

A Time for Change Health and Wellness Fair

Free admission, open to the public!

Happening soon: Saturday, October 6!

Orthopedic & Spine Therapy presents their second annual “A Time for Change,” a health and wellness fair for all on Saturday, October 6 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The fair’s message, that there’s always time for change, whether that involves healthy eating, exercise, mental and emotional well-being, self-care, etc., is brought to life with vendors and field experts offering their advice and knowledge, like free blood pressure monitoring by Fox Valley Technical College.

“We wanted to have a health fair for the public, for people who are at any health level,” Sami Barnett, Marketing and Communications Coordinator of Orthopedic & Spine Therapy, explains. “People who are into fitness, people who love yoga and natural products but also people who might be beginners and not know how to begin, or have little knowledge. It’s for everybody. The time for change can be now.”

  • When: Saturday, October 6 • 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
  • Where: Community Early Learning Center of the Fox Valley, 313 S. State Street, Appleton (Across from St. Mary Church near downtown Appleton. Parking located in back of school, as well as church parking lot.)
  • Who: Everyone is welcome and admission is free! Monetary donations accepted for the Fox Valley Warming Shelter.

See Orthopedic & Spine Therapy’s website for more details: visit

Orthopedic & Spine Therapy’s “WOW Philosophy”

Orthopedic & Spine Therapy is serious about treating its patients the way they would want to be treated, and they do so in a variety of ways. Outrageous customer service, education and results are what drive the “WOW Philosophy.” Below are the five divisions in which they help patients function at and feel their best:

  • Physical Therapy: Our physical therapists use a variety of techniques to treat a variety of conditions to help assist in the process of healing and recovering.
  • Pelvic Physical Therapy: A safe, highly effective, discreet, drug-free way to treat a variety of women’s and men’s pelvic health conditions.
  • Workplace Solutions: We provide superior workplace solutions to enhance your quality of business and get our Workers Compensation patients back to work safely and quickly. We are trained and licensed by nationally recognized return-to-work programs.
  • Massage Therapy: A form of holistic therapy, which is a natural way to help your body heal itself with invigorating massage and reflexology.

Choose a clinic from one of eighteen locations near you!

Orthopedic & Spine Therapy boasts 18 clinics throughout Northwest and Northeast Wisconsin to treat all musculoskeletal conditions. No matter where you’re located, there are exceptional physical therapists nearby to help with any pain or frustration you may be experiencing. Visit to find the location and contact information for the clinic nearest you. 

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