Previously, we have shared detailed blogs regarding the importance of movement and adequate rest/recovery for physical wellness.  These are most-easily relatable to the profession of physical therapy. However, a lack of social well-being also has been shown to have several negative physical effects, which may lead to a pain issue.

A study done in 2011 found that “social isolation can have direct effects on cardiovascular disease risk factors. Perceived isolation and loneliness are associated with increased sympathetic nervous system activity, increased inflammation, and decreased sleep, all of which can accelerate brain and cardiovascular aging.”  This is in agreement with a separate study done in 2017 showing “evidence that social participation plays an important role in cognitive functioning and successful aging.”

The first responsibility of a physical therapist is just to be aware that our patients have lives extending beyond their physical conditions.  We may not always ask questions about our patients’ social networks or family support, but we will if there appears to be a need in that area. We can then ask questions to facilitate awareness and provide the above-mentioned education when relevant.

Sometimes an awareness of sudden or significant changes in patients’ social lives can help identify reasons for changes in physical pain.  For instance, a patient may present to PT reporting that he has had the same type of back pain for 10+ years, but for no reason it became exacerbated approximately 6 months ago.  He may say there really was no reason for it to increase because he hasn’t done anything different or out of the ordinary. Upon questioning, it becomes clear he has had a recent change in his marital status.  More specific questioning reveals that his wife filed for divorce 6 months ago. This opens a door to talking about social well-being ties to physical pain and may provide some peace by waylaying fear related to the mysterious, unknown cause of pain – previously assumed to be physical.

Advantage Rehab’s theme for the month is “Take Advantage of the Season.”  The holidays are a typical time that friends and family reach out to one another with greetings, cards or gifts.  People may make an extra effort to spend time with friends and family as well. If you feel your social support network is lacking or perhaps a little rusty from disuse, take advantage of the holiday season and extend appreciation to friends and family alike.  Reach out and renew some connections that may have been lost over time. Try to recall the reason you became friends with these individuals in the first place and revel in the comfort, peace or joy and mental well-being they bring.