Physical therapy (PT) is defined as therapy for the preservation, enhancement, or restoration of movement and physical function impaired or threatened by disease, injury or disability that utilizes therapeutic exercise, physical modalities, assistive devices, and patient education and training.Physical therapy has a wide array of benefits for prospective patients, no matter their age or activity level. From athletes to the elderly, PT can help prevent injuries and assist those hoping to recover from many ailments. Treatments can be modified according to specific symptoms, the time frame within which patients desire results, and any pre-existing physical limitations.
The Purpose of PT
Physical therapy's rehabilitative treatments are typically customized to suit an individual’s particular needs, and can serve a number of purposes. Among these: strengthening the muscles related to discomfort, minimizing resulting impairments, as well as increasing the range of motion in joints and improving the flexibility of those affected areas.
The benefits do not stop at merely the physical; PT practitioners are trained to evaluate the psychological, emotional, and social status of their patients.
Physical therapy is often regarded as a viable method of avoiding surgery, as it helps manage common injuries more effectively, before they manifest into larger, long-term issues; it is also highly regarded for its post-surgical benefits, ranging from decreased swelling and inflammation to substantial pain relief.
The benefits do not stop at merely the physical; PT practitioners are trained to evaluate the psychological, emotional, and social status of their patients as well, their ultimate goal being to help increase overall quality of life through prevention, treatment and intervention, and rehabilitation. Symptoms can manifest due to a range of factors, from aging and disease, to disorders, chronic conditions, and environmental factors.
Patient & Practitioner
In New York State, a licensed physical therapist must have specialized training in the field and have passed a mandated state exam in order to practice. Studies have shown that one in two American adults has some type of musculoskeletal condition that may be treated with the help of PT. These include arthritis, back and neck pain, injuries sustained from falls, military service and sports, and osteoporosis.
While each condition is evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine the proper treatment regimen, most practitioners typically specialize in aiding those suffering from chronic or acute spine or joint pain. The goal is to increase muscle mobility through targeted exercises and proven rehabilitation techniques, designed to both aid flexibility and improve strength. These may be done on-site during scheduled sessions, or off-site on a patient’s own time.
Physical therapists can provide care for patients in a variety of settings, including hospitals, private practices, outpatient clinics, and nursing homes, or through the auspices of home health agencies, school athletic programs, and fitness facilities. Their roles include everything from the initial diagnosis of the ailment, to determination of a course of treatment, implementation and assessment of the effectiveness of the therapeutic method, and allowances for any subsequent need for modifications.
Common Pain Points
Two of the most common ailments often necessitating a physical therapy treatment plan include those involving the neck or ankles. For both, early intervention is a key component; avoiding surgery—if possible—is always the primary goal. In cases where this is not feasible, PT has a proven track record of facilitating the recovery process.
By engaging in exercises emphasizing extension, flexion and rotation, patients can begin to see improvements in these areas.
Neck pain, can be acute (classified as lasting for less than three months) and often caused by muscle or tendon strain—or chronic (ongoing pain) and generally endures for a minimum of three months and rarely, if ever, subsides.Ankle pain occurs when bones, connective tissue and muscles dissipate over time, leading to a decline in flexibility and increasing weakness. By engaging in exercises emphasizing extension, flexion and rotation, patients can begin to see improvements in these areas.
Other conditions that can benefit from physical therapy include: those of the cardiopulmonary variety, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cystic fibrosis, and post-myocardial infarction; hand ailments, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and trigger finger; musculoskeletal dysfunction, such as back pain, rotator cuff tears, and temporomandibular joint disorders; neurological deficits, such as stroke, spinal cord injuries, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, vestibular dysfunction, and traumatic brain injuries; pediatric conditions, such as developmental delays, cerebral palsy, and muscular dystrophy; sports-related injuries, such as concussion and tennis elbow; and women's health issues, such as urinary incontinence and lymphedema.
PT for Every Purpose
Just as each patient is unique, so are his or her symptoms and the manner in which they may manifest. As such, there are several variations of physical therapy, each with its own customized approach, designed to best benefit the individual being treated.
- Pediatric Physical Therapy: intended to aid adolescents, children and babies as they transition through the early stages of life, helping to build muscular and skeletal strength and expand ranges of movement
- Geriatric Physical Therapy: geared toward older individuals, as the aging process begins to take a toll on muscle movement, often leading to unsafe habits, such as overcompensation in posture and gait
- Vestibular Rehabilitation: focuses on issues of the inner ear, which can have a detrimental effect on balance, leading to chronic dizziness and vertigo
- Neurological Physical Therapy: targeted to alleviating those symptoms caused by nervous system disorders, making these chronic problems more manageable and easier to cope with
- Orthopedic Physical Therapy: Perhaps the most common of the methods, this type is designed to aid in the recovery of muscle strength following an injury, or in some cases, a surgical procedure.
- Cardiovascular/Pulmonary Physical Therapy: meant to build strength in key muscles, and improve endurance, especially in cases involving serious issues with your heart or circulation
PT & Athletes
Injuries aside, physical therapy has supplemental benefits that may suit certain individuals. Athletes have been known to see a noticeable boost in performance, as treatment tends to aid the body in moving more smoothly, along with establishing increased stability. While some may choose to compensate for pain rather than risk being sidelined, PT can address these underlying issues before they require surgical attention.
In many instances, physical therapy can prove as effective, if not more, for hip, back, shoulder and knee pain. Common sports injuries include those to the ACL and meniscus (knee), as well as the labrum and UCL (shoulder/elbow). These treatments, in conjunction with chiropractors, physicians and strength and conditioning coaches, can be quite beneficial.
Of course, the primary goal, above all else, is prevention. With student athletes, communication is key to ascertain a player’s level of pain, any preexisting conditions, and his or her inclination to ignore them. Warming up is crucial, as is incorporating a healthy, well-balanced diet and plenty of hydration into daily routines.
Taking it to the field, utilizing the proper equipment, and following appropriate guidelines and techniques while playing, can prevent a good number of unnecessary injuries. Cross-training in a variety of sports, as well, aids in avoiding repeated strain on the same muscles or joints by adding an element of diversity. And finally, rest. There is no substitute for sleep. Excess muscle fatigue can predispose athletes to injury, making the concept of an off-season a sensible choice.