October is National Physical Therapy Month
by Cindy Binkley, FLT Columnist
October is National Physical Therapy Month and therefore the ideal opportunity to build awareness for the profession. I’m constantly surprised by how many people either don’t know what physical therapy is all about or who have an incorrect perception of what it means to go to physical therapy.
What exactly is physical therapy?
Physical therapy is a health care profession dedicated to developing, maintaining or restoring physical abilities to individuals that are unable to function at peak level due to injury, disease, disability or aging. The primary areas of focus are with decreasing pain, increasing strength and/or flexibility, educating the patient and restoring maximum movement and function.
Physical therapy is performed by either a licensed physical therapist (PT) or a licensed physical therapist assistant (PTA) acting under the PT’s direction. Both PT’s and PTA’s have college degrees from programs where they were educated about the human body and exercise with a deep focus on injury prevention and physical rehabilitation. Almost all current physical therapy programs are post graduate clinical doctorates, which bestow upon the graduate the designation “Doctor of Physical Therapy” or DPT. There are a few schools, however, which still award Masters of Physical Therapy degrees.
Physical therapy is recommended because PT’s are experts in restoring and improving motion in people’s lives. PT’s treat people throughout their lifespan ― from newborn babies in the ICU to middle-aged people with athletic injuries to older adults who are dealing with mobility problems that come with aging. Physical therapy is also noninvasive and rarely worsens a condition. For that reason, physicians usually recommend physical therapy to a patient before considering surgery. In many cases, physical therapists help people avoid surgery or the need for long-term use of prescription medication. For those people that cannot avoid having surgery, physical therapy is typically recommended to ensure the proper healing and function of the body part that was operated on.
Physicians recommend physical therapy for:
- Orthopedic conditions: Low back pain, ACL reconstruction, total knee replacement, osteoporosis, arthritis, fractures and dislocations.
- Neurologic conditions: Stroke, traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy and Parkinson’s Disease.
- Occupational injuries: Overuse injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and other injuries that result in sprains or strains.
- Sports injuries: Sprains, strains, knee injuries, fractures, dislocations, Achilles tendon injuries, etc.
- Others: Connective tissue injuries, such as burns and wounds and cardiopulmonary and circulatory conditions, such as congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease often greatly benefit from therapy, as well.
What can I expect from therapy?
A therapist will develop an individualized program designed to address your specific limitations and monitor your treatment along the way. Here are some things that you should expect from therapy:
- Evaluation: On your first visit, the therapist will perform an evaluation that will encompass your medical history and a physical examination. This information is used to create an individualized treatment program geared to your specific needs.
- Treatment: You will usually perform some therapeutic exercise and/or functional training and possibly aquatic therapy. Your therapist may perform range of motion, mobilize a joint or use a variety of manual techniques on a muscle to promote normal movement and function. Other modalities may ultrasound, electric stimulation, hot/cold packs and traction.
- Education: Education is a major component of physical therapy. Your therapist will take the time to explain your injury or dysfunction, how it occurred and what course of action will be taken to help correct it and prevent recurrences.
- Home exercise program: Your therapist will also develop an individualized home exercise program for you to practice to help speed up your recovery process.
Choosing a PT:
Most referrals for physical therapy come from your physician or healthcare provider. They may suggest a certain facility, but the choice is yours! A few items to consider are: if the facility is in your insurance network, the convenience of the location and the experience of the physical therapists with your specific condition. Ohio is a Direct Access State, meaning that you can seek the care of a physical therapist without a referral from your physician. However, be sure to check with your insurance provider to see if they will pay for your care without a referral.
The bottom line:
Physical therapy is an evidence-based practice that is dedicated to healing, educating and promoting fitness and health. What does that mean? It means that physical therapy has been tested to verify it works and research is continuously being done to improve treatments. It also means that the goal of the physical therapist is to get you better and make sure you know what you need to know, so that you can stay healthy and not have to come back due to a recurrence of the injury. So, the next time you are having pain and are unable to do your normal activities, it may be time to get a referral to a local physical therapist. Why suffer needlessly? Get help and get healthy!
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