Physical therapy helps people of all ages who have medical conditions, illnesses or injuries that limit their regular ability to move and function.
A customized physical therapy program can help individuals return to their prior level of functioning, and encourage activities and lifestyle changes that can help prevent further injury and improve overall health and well being. Primary care doctors often refer patients to physical therapy at the first sign of a problem, since it is considered a conservative approach to managing problems. Wondering what makes physical therapy so important? In honor of Physical Therapy month in October, here are 10 ways it may benefit you:
- Reduce or eliminate pain. Therapeutic exercises and manual therapy techniques such as joint and soft tissue mobilization or treatments such as ultrasound, taping or electrical stimulation can help relieve pain and restore muscle and joint function to reduce pain. Such therapies can also prevent pain from returning.
- Avoid surgery. If physical therapy helps you eliminate pain or heal from an injury, surgery may not be needed. And even if surgery is required, you may benefit from pre-surgery physical therapy. If you are going into a surgery stronger and in better shape, you will recover faster afterwards in many cases. Also, by avoiding surgery, health care costs are reduced.
- Improve mobility. If you’re having trouble standing, walking or moving—no matter your age—physical therapy can help. Stretching and strengthening exercises help restore your ability to move. Physical therapists can properly fit individuals with a cane, crutches or any other assistive device, or assess for orthotic prescription. By customizing an individual care plan, whatever activity that is important to an individual’s life can be practiced and adapted to ensure maximal performance and safety.
- Recover from a stroke. It’s common to lose some degree of function and movement after stroke. Physical therapy helps strengthen weakened parts of the body and improve gait and balance. Physical therapists can also improve stroke patients’ ability to transfer and move around in bed so that they can be more independent around the home, and reduce their burden of care for toileting, bathing, dressing and other activities of daily living.
- Recover from or prevent a sports injury. Physical therapists understand how different sports can increase your risk for specific types of injuries (such as stress fractures for distance runners). They can design appropriate recovery or prevention exercise programs for you to ensure a safe return to your sport.
- Improve your balance and prevent falls . When you begin physical therapy, you will get screened for fall risk. If you’re at high risk for falls, therapists will provide exercises that safely and carefully challenge your balance as a way to mimic real-life situations. Therapists also help you with exercises to improve coordination and assistive devices to help with safer walking. When the balance problem is caused by a problem in one’s vestibular system, Physical therapists can perform specific maneuvers that can quickly restore proper vestibular functioning, and reduce and eliminate symptoms of dizziness or vertigo.
- Manage diabetes and vascular conditions. As part of an overall diabetes management plan, exercise can help effectively control blood sugar. Additionally, people with diabetes may have problems with sensation in their feet and legs. Physical therapists can help provide and educate these patients on proper foot care to prevent further problems down the road.
- Manage age-related issues . As individuals age, they may develop arthritis or osteoporosis or need a joint replacement. Physical therapists are experts in helping patients recover from joint replacement, and manage arthritic or osteoporotic conditions conservatively.
- Manage heart and lung disease. While patients may complete cardiac rehabilitation after a heart attack or procedure, you also may receive physical therapy if your daily functioning is affected. For pulmonary problems, physical therapy can improve quality of life through strengthening, conditioning and breathing exercises, and help patients clear fluid in the lungs.
- Manage Women’s Health and other conditions. Women have specific health concerns, such as with pregnancy and post-partum care. Physical therapists can offer specialized management of issues related to women’s health. Additionally, PT can provide specialized treatment for: Bowel incontinence, breast cancer, constipation, fibromyalgia, lymphedema, male pelvic health, pelvic pain, and urinary incontinence.
If you have questions about how physical therapy may help you or someone you care about, please don’t hesitate to ask your health care provider or local PT for information.
—Ben Gilbert, PT, MS, OCS, Cert. MDT, Manager, Outpatient Physical Therapy Department at Burke Rehabilitation Center