What is physical therapy?
More than likely, you have heard of physical therapy or you probably know someone who has been to physical therapy. But do you really know what physical therapy is?
Physical therapy is much more than just hot packs and massage. Physical therapists are movement experts. Their job is to restore normal movement patterns and function in their patients due to musculoskeletal, cardiopulmonary, and neurological conditions. Physical therapists evaluate the patient and then implement a treatment plan to correct the impairments which are causing the movement dysfunction. Treatment may involve decreasing pain, restoring normal muscle, soft tissue, and joint mobility, strengthening weak muscles, and improving balance, muscle control and posture, amongst others.
To accomplish these goals, physical therapists will use progressive resistive exercises for strengthening, manual techniques such as massage and joint mobilizations to improve soft tissue and joint mobility, stretching exercises, balance exercises, and modalities (i.e., ice/heat, ultrasound). They will likely also develop a home exercise program for the patient to help to facilitate their recovery. Recently, physical therapists have also become more involved in the preventative aspect of health care, although this role is still evolving. For more details of treatment techniques please see the therapy services section on the main menu.
Because physical therapists need to understand many problems which can affect movement, function and overall health, all physical therapists are college graduates. Physical therapists also need to pass a board certification examination and maintain a current state license to practice.
The following list contains some of the most common reasons to see a physical therapist:
- Low Back Pain
- Neck Pain
- Shoulder, Arm, Wrist, or Hand Problems
- Hip, Knee, Ankle, or Foot Problems
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Joint Sprains and Muscle Strains
- Cardiac Rehabilitation
- Rehabilitation After a Serious Injury
- Stroke Rehabilitation
- Problems With Balance
- Sports Injury
- Pre- or Post-surgery Rehabilitation
- Therapeutic Exercise: techniques used to strengthen muscles and increase soft tissue flexibility.
- Manual Therapy Techniques: manual techniques performed by the therapist to increase soft tissue or joint mobility and decrease muscle spasm and pain.
- Neuromuscular Re-education: techniques used to restore normal muscle recruitment, control muscle tone, and improve balance, coordination and postural stability.
- Modalities: physical agents used reduce soft tissue inflammation, increase the healing rate of soft tissue injury, modify muscle tone, control pain, increase connective tissue extensibility, and remodel scar tissue.
- Cryotherapy (ice): control inflammation, pain and edema and control tone.
- Thermotherapy (heat): control pain, increase soft tissue flexibility, increase circulation and accelerate healing.
- Ultrasound: increase soft tissue flexibility, decrease pain, facilitate tissue healing.
- Phonophoresis: use of ultrasound with a gel prepared with a medication to administer the drug to the affected area through the skin.
- Electrical Stimulation: muscle strengthening, pain control, tone control, tissue healing, and decrease inflammation.
- Iontophoresis: small direct electrical current generally used to push a medication across the skin to the affected area. Often dexamethasone is used to control inflammation and pain.
- Traction: increase joint or soft tissue mobility and treatment of nerve or disc problems.
- Biofeedback: facilitate or inhibit muscle contraction.
- Sports Medicine
- Workers' Compensation Programs
- Aquatic Therapy
- Joint Replacements
- Custom Orthotics