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About Physical Therapy

Why is Physical Therapy a good choice?

Maybe you have had a conversation with a friend about how physical therapy helped get rid of his or her back pain, or you might know someone who needed physical therapy after an injury. You might even have been treated by a physical therapist yourself. But have you ever wondered about physical therapists--who they are and what they do? Many people are familiar with physical therapists' work helping patients with orthopedic problems, such as low back pain or knee surgeries, to reduce pain and regain function. Others may be aware of the treatment that physical therapists provide to assist patients recovering from a stroke (e.g., assisting them with recovering use of their limbs and walking again). However, many do not even know that physical therapists are well equipped to not only treat pain but also its source.

The ability to maintain an upright posture and to move your arms and legs to perform all sorts of tasks and activities is an important component of your health. Most of us can learn to live with the various medical conditions that we may develop, but only if we are able to continue at our jobs, take care of our families, and enjoy important occasions with family and friends. All of these activities require the ability to move without difficulty or pain.

What do Physical Therapists do?

Physical therapy helps patients suffering from disease or injuries improve mobility; relieve pain; increase strength, coordination, and balance; and decrease or prevent deformity. Physical therapists assess, plan, organize, and participate in rehabilitative programs. In addition to “hands-on” care, which consists of joint and soft tissue mobilization and spinal manipulations, physical therapists also educate patients in proper posture and body mechanics and design home exercise programs for patients to address their specific impairments. Many physical exercises are used in conjunction with therapeutic modalities such as heat, cold, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, whirlpool and traction. Physical therapists are experts at treating movement and neuro-musculoskeletal disorders. Pain often accompanies a movement disorder, and these therapists can help correct the disorder and relieve the pain.

Most commonly seen conditions by a physical therapist are:

  • Neck and back: herniated discs, spondylolisthesis, spondylosis, sciatica, radiculopathies and bone spurs.
  • Shoulder: Rotator tendinitis/tears, bursitis, dislocations, labral tears, impingement, AC joint separations, scapular instabilities, thoracic outlet syndrome, and adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulder).
  • Elbow: medial epicondylitis (golfers elbow), lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow), and cubital tunnel.
  • Wrist and Hand: See Hand Therapy.
  • Hip: total hip replacements, bursitis, labral tears and SI joint dysfunctions.
  • Knee: meniscal tears, ACL tears, ligament sprains/strains, bursitis, chondromalacia patella (patellofemoral pain) and patellar tendinitis.
  • Ankle/foot: ligament tears, flat feet (over pronation), plantar fasciitis, heel spurs, and ankle instability.
  • Other: Degenerative Joint Disease (Arthritis), fracture, dislocation, sprain and strain, post-stroke rehabilitation, balance deficiency, fitness and wellness training, and sports injuries rehabilitation.

Because physical therapists are experts in movement and function, they do not confine their talents to treating people who are ill. A large part of a physical therapist's program is directed at preventing injury, loss of movement, and even surgery. Physical therapists work as consultants in industrial settings to improve the design of the workplace and reduce the risk of workers overusing certain muscles or developing low back pain. They also provide services to athletes at all levels to screen for potential problems and institute preventive exercise programs. With the boom in the golf and fitness industries, a number of physical therapists are engaged in consulting with recreational golfers and fitness clubs to develop workouts that are safe and effective, especially for people who already know that they have a problem with their joints or their backs.

The cornerstones of physical therapy treatment are therapeutic exercise and functional training. In addition to "hands-on" care, physical therapists also educate patients to take care of themselves and to perform certain exercises on their own. Depending on the particular needs of a patient, physical therapists may also "mobilize" a joint (that is, perform certain types of movements at the end of your range of motion) or massage a muscle to promote proper movement and function. Physical therapists also use methods such as ultrasound (which uses high frequency waves to produce heat), hot packs, and ice. Although other kinds of practitioners will offer some of these treatments as "physical therapy," it's important for you to know that physical therapy can only be provided by qualified physical therapists or by physical therapist assistants, who must complete a 2-year education program and who work only under the direction and supervision of physical therapists.

Most forms of physical therapy treatment are covered by your insurance, but the coverage will vary with each plan. Most states do not legally require patients to see their physicians before seeing a physical therapist. Most of the time all you have to do is ask your doctor if physical therapy is right for you.
Reference: APTA

Why are people referred to Physical Therapy?

You and others may be referred to physical therapy because of a movement dysfunction associated with pain. Your difficulty with moving part(s) of your body (like bending at the low back or difficulty sleeping on your shoulder, etc.) very likely results in limitations with your daily activities (e.g., difficulty getting out of a chair, an inability to play sports, or trouble with walking, etc.). Physical therapists treat these movement dysfunctions and their associated pains and restore your body's ability to move in a normal manner.

Is Physical Therapy painful?

For many patients, one of the primary objectives is pain relief. This is frequently accomplished with hands-on techniques, modalities such as ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and/or heat or cold therapy. Movement often provides pain relief as well. Your physical therapist will provide you with the appropriate exercises not only for pain relief but to recover range of motion, strength, and endurance. In some cases, physical therapy techniques can be painful. For example, recovering knee range of motion after total knee replacement or shoulder range of motion after shoulder surgery may be painful. Your physical therapist will utilize a variety of techniques to help maximize your treatment goals. It is important that you communicate the intensity, frequency, and duration of pain to your therapist. Without this information, it is difficult for the therapist to adjust your treatment plan.

Physical Therapy in Life