What Is Physical Therapy?
Physical therapy (often referred to as PT) is the health care specialty primarily concerned with individualized treatment:
- For patients who may need to recover from injuries,
- For post-surgical rehabilitation or
- To help patients cope with health problems that make it difficult to move around and perform everyday tasks.
Physical therapy treatment promotes healing and helps to manage or relieve pain. Physical therapy also aims to restore and improve the physical function and fitness level of the patient. Often doctors or surgeons recommend physical therapy treatment following a surgery or injury, or for management of chronic health problems such as arthritis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Physical therapy may be used alone or with other medical treatments.
- Promote mobility
- Reduce pain
- Restore function
- Prevent disability
- Increase strength
- Promote healing
- Improve quality of life
- Post-surgical recovery
- Age-related issues
- Management of chronic conditions
- Car accident injuries
- Workers comp rehabilitation
- Athletic performance
Sports-Focused Physical Therapy is a more specialized type of physical therapy treatment athletes turn to for recovery from physical injuries (sometimes following a subsequent surgery) and prevention of future injury.
Methods of Physical Therapy Treatment
Physical therapy nearly always involves exercise of some kind that is specifically designed for the patient’s injury, illness, condition, or to help prevent future health problems. It can include stretching, core exercises, weight lifting, and walking.
Manual therapy (sometimes called bodywork) is a general term for physical therapy treatment performed mostly by a physical therapist with the hands. The goals of manual therapy include relaxation, decreased pain, and increased flexibility. Types of manual therapy can include:
- Massage. Pressure is applied to the soft tissues of the body, such as the muscles. Massage can help relax muscles, increase circulation, and ease pain in the soft tissues.
- Mobilization. Slow, measured movements are used to twist, pull, or push bones and joints into position. This can help loosen tight tissues around a joint and help with flexibility, range of motion and alignment.
- Manipulation. Pressure is applied to a joint. It can be done with the hands or a special device. The careful, controlled force used on the joint can range from gentle to strong and from slow to rapid.
Other treatment methods include:
Cold and Ice
To relieve pain, swelling, and inflammation from injuries and other conditions such as arthritis. Ice can be used for up to 20 minutes at a time. In some cases, ice may be used several times a day. Some therapists also use cooling lotions or sprays.
To help relax and heal your muscles and soft tissues by increasing blood circulation. This can be especially helpful if a joint is stiff from osteoarthritis or from being immobilized. Heat can also relax the muscles before exercise.
Uses high-pitched sound waves to ease muscle spasms and relax and warm muscles before exercise, to help relieve pain and inflammation, and to promote healing.
In general, this is the use of electrical current to create an effect in the body. Electrical stimulation is sometimes used at low levels to reduce the feeling of pain. It can also be used to cause muscles to contract (tense).
Also known as water therapy, a term from the past that means the use of water to treat a disease or to maintain health. The most common hydrotherapy now is water exercise.
Physical Therapy Importance
With customized physical therapy treatment, it is possible for a patient to regain the mobility of his/her joints, gain flexibility, and acquire improved balance and coordination. In addition, physical therapy also helps in significantly improving the overall fitness and health of the patient.
Physical therapy can help a patient recover from an injury and avoid future injury. Physical therapy can help patients reduce pain in the soft tissues (muscles, tendons, and ligaments), build muscle strength and function, improve flexibility and function and joint range of motion. Physical therapists also evaluate how patients perform an activity and make suggestions for doing the activity in a way that is less likely to result in an injury.
Additionally, there are also more specific reasons why one might choose physical therapy. Athletes who are looking to enhance their athletic performance and lessen the occurrence of injuries may use physical therapy to achieve their goals. Read more about Sports-Focused Physical Therapy here.
Overall, the importance of physical therapy is based on the individual needs and lifestyle of each patient. Besides the more obvious reasons related to pain, and increased mobility, physical therapy may also be important for helping a patient function within the limitations of a chronic or debilitating condition.