Physical Therapy, often referred to as PT, is an exercise program that helps you to improve movement, relieve pain, encourage blood flow for faster healing, and restore your physical function and fitness level following an injury or surgery. It can be prescribed by your doctor as an individual treatment program or combined with other treatments and involves a combination of education, manual therapy, exercises and techniques such as water therapy, heat, cold, electrical stimulation and ultrasound.
The main goal of physical therapy is to make your daily activities such as walking, getting in and out of bed, or climbing stairs easier through a tailored exercise program under the guidance of a physical therapist and enable a more active and healthier lifestyle.
What is a Physical Therapist?
A physical therapist is a well-trained, skilled health care professional who facilitates improving movement and manages pain by safe stretching, conditioning, and strengthening exercise techniques. A physical therapist will examine your symptoms and activity level and create a treatment plan which primarily focuses on reducing your symptoms and facilitating early recovery. The different procedures used by a physical therapist depend upon an individual’s specific physical complaints, necessities, and goals.
Indications for Physical Therapy
Physical therapy is usually recommended to help you recover after certain surgeries, injuries and long-term health problems such as arthritis.
Some of the conditions that physical therapy can help treat or aid in preventing include:
- Musculoskeletal conditions such as arthritis, knee pain, back pain, and rotator cuff tears
- Sports-related injuries, such as tennis elbow and concussion
- Hand therapy for disorders such as trigger finger and carpal tunnel syndrome
- Neurological disorders such as spinal cord injuries and traumatic brain injuries
- Pediatric disorders such as muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy
- Women’s health and pelvic floor dysfunction, such as urinary incontinence
- Cardiopulmonary disorders, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and post-myocardial infarction (MI)
Types of Physical Therapy
Some of the types of physical therapy include:
Stretching Exercises: Surgery, age, and conditions such as arthritis and osteoporosis can cause inflammation and stiffness in your joints and muscles while restricting your movement. Physical therapists guide you step by step to stretch different areas of your body to restore flexibility and enhance the movement of joints and muscles.
Core-strengthening and Stability Exercises: Specific exercises are designed to make the core (pelvis and lower back) strong enough to support the whole body.
Hot/Cold Therapy: Applying heat or cold treatments to muscles can stimulate the blood flow and reduce pain and swelling. Heat treatment helps to reduce joint pain and spasms in the lower back and neck and loosen muscles. Cooling works well for sprains and can decrease pain and swelling.
Electrostimulation: In this procedure, an electric current is passed through the area which requires treatment. This helps to relieve pain, stimulate muscles and nerves, and expand blood vessels.
Ultrasound: An ultrasound sends high-frequency sound waves over your body and stimulates deep body tissues. Vibrations produced by sound waves help to stimulate blood flow and facilitate the healing process. This procedure can also be used to improve metabolism and enhance the adhesiveness of bones after a fracture.
Traction: This physical therapy method helps to take pressure off damaged or compressed joints. Traction can be performed with the therapist’s hands or a piece of equipment and is considered useful for people with degenerative disc conditions, lower back pain, and neck pain.
Soft Tissue Manipulation: This is a form of manual physical therapy in which your physical therapist employs hands-on techniques on your muscles and ligaments to break up adhesions and optimize muscle function.
Hydrotherapy: This type of therapy can be particularly helpful for individuals with joint injuries as water provides gentle resistance. Exercises are performed in a pool or whirlpool and the buoyancy that water offers helps reduce the impact you place on your joints while exercising.
Benefits of Physical Therapy
Some of the important benefits that physical therapy helps to achieve include:
- Alleviate or eliminate pain
- Improve range of motion
- Avoid disability or surgery
- Improve balance and prevent falls
- Manage bowel or bladder problems
- Recover from or prevent a sports injury
- Manage lung and heart conditions
- Recovery from childbirth
- Manage vascular conditions and diabetes
- Improve age-related conditions such as arthritis
Physical therapy is used to treat injuries, diseases, or deformities by application of various treatment modalities. With the supervision of your physical therapist, a well-structured physical therapy regimen consisting of stretching, strengthening, and stability exercises can help you achieve a quick recovery and return to your daily routines, as well as sports and other recreational activities.