What is Physical Therapy?
Physical Therapy (PT) is a health care specialty involved with evaluating, diagnosing, and treating disorders of the musculoskeletal system. Physical therapy is considered a conservative treatment method addressing the treatment, healing, and prevention of injuries and disabilities. The ultimate goal of physical therapy is to restore maximal functional independence to each individual patient. To achieve this goal, physical modalities such as exercise, heat, cold, electrical stimulation, and massage are utilized.
Physical therapy is ordered by a physician when it is felt that such a course of treatment would be beneficial. It is offered to a wide variety of patient's including newborn babies, children, adults, and geriatrics.
Physical therapists focus primarily, but not solely, on relieving pain, promoting healing, and restoring function and movement, and facilitation and adaptation associated with injury. Therapy also focuses on ergonomics or body mechanic training, fitness and wellness, and education. This area of physical therapy includes posture, stabilization and building strength in the weakened area, and to prevent additional injury.
Through patient and therapist interaction, physical therapy can help restore movement and function to help patients return to their prior level of independence.
What can a PT program do for me that I cannot do on my own?
Many patients may think that they know how to properly exercise, manage their pain and rehabilitate themselves. Patients commonly give therapists reasons why they do not need therapy - for example, "I have had this before and I know what works for me" or, "I know what is causing this because my neighbor had the same thing, so I will just do what she did" and attempt to self-manage their condition.
A Physical Therapist is a specialist specifically educated and skilled in proper rehabilitation. Physical therapists are continually educated as to management for different dysfunctions, differentiation of one dysfunction/injury from another and work closely with the referring physician in the development of a rehabilitation program specifically designed for each individual patient.
The other important aspect to remember with physical therapy is that each individual is different. We all have different types of bodies, different patterns of movement, different alignments and different habits. A physical therapist will monitor each individual and attempt to correct improper habits, alignments and movement patterns.
Most important with therapy is education. Due to healthcare guidelines and reimbursement changes, your physician may not have the time needed to explain exactly what your injury/dysfunction/disability is and why/how it occurred. Your therapist specializes in this and many times will be the one to educate you on the specifics of your problem and what the course of action will be to correct it and hopefully prevent it from reoccurring. PT focuses on education, correction, and prevention.
Who benefits from Physical Therapy?
Many and all can benefit from therapy. Very rarely do individuals present with perfect body mechanics, training techniques, or movement patterns. This is where wellness comes into play. Typically the most appropriate patients are those who have been in accidents (work-related, automobile, or falls), athletes with overstress injuries, arthritic patients, pre and post-operative patients, and those with general deconditioning, or strains.
Posture is an area that always seems to be overlooked. Patients who make simple changes throughout their daily habits can change their potential for injuries and alleviate current ones. Results of poor posture may include the following: forward head, rounded shoulders, excessive lordosis, tight and weak back muscles, tight and weak leg muscles, which can all lead to joint pain.
What will I have to do in PT?
Therapy generally encompasses pain relief, strength and flexibility training, proper postural alignment, regaining movement or range of motion, improving and correcting posture, endurance training, relaxation and stress relieving techniques, balance and coordination training, proper walking, education, safety awareness, and development, and implementation of a home exercise program.
PT is Worth Your Effort
Remember that each individual is different. Your rehabilitation or PT experience will be individual. Be patient with yourself, your physician and your physical therapy staff. Healing takes time, diligence and compliance. If you think you may be a candidate for physical therapy, speak to your physician or therapist.