October Is Also National Physical Therapy Month!

Photo by A6U57N1 via Flickr

Photo by A6U57N1 via Flickr

October is National Physical Therapy Month. I know October is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Black History Month, but with only 12 months a year, every month has at least a couple subjects associated with it.  But since I’m a Doctor of Physical Therapy, I can’t pass up this opportunity to build awareness for my 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.  Some people think that when you go to a physical therapist, they will fix you with no work on your part.  Other people think that if you go to physical therapy, they will exercise you so hard that you’ll be sore for weeks.  With very rare exceptions for certain conditions, neither of these statements are true.

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.  Physical therapy is concerned 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 or a licensed physical therapist assistant acting under their direction.  Physical therapists and their assistants both 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 education includes classes in anatomy, physiology, neurology, kinesiology and biomechanics, musculoskeletal rehabilitation, neuromuscular rehabilitation, motor learning, etc.  So, anyone that thinks that they know everything a physical therapist does and can just do it at home, isn’t aware of half of what goes into assessing an injury, designing a plan of care, monitoring a patient, modifying the plan of care as needed and progressing the patient through to recovery, all while educating the patient in what they need to know to avoid re-injury.

Medical doctors recommend physical therapy because it provides evidence-based treatments for physical and neurological conditions that affect motion and activities of daily living.  It is also noninvasive and rarely worsens a condition.  For that reason, medical doctors will usually recommend physical therapy to a patient before considering surgery.  For those people that think that they can avoid physical therapy by going to surgery, medical doctors usually recommend physical therapy after surgery to ensure the proper healing and function of the body part that was operated on.

Doctors recommend physical therapy for:

  1. Orthopedic conditions: Some examples are low back pain, ACL reconstruction, total knee replacement, osteoporosis, arthritis, fractures and dislocations.
  2. Neurologic conditions: Stroke, traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy and Parkinson’s are just a few examples that can benefit from a physical therapy intervention.
  3. Occupational injuries: Overuse injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and other injuries that result in sprains or strains are treated by physical therapy.
  4. Sports injuries: Sports injuries, such as sprains, strains, knee injuries, fractures, dislocations, Achilles tendon injuries and pain along the shin bone are a few examples.
  5. 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 circumstances and monitor your treatment along the way. Here are some things that you should expect from therapy:

  1. 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.
  2. Treatment: You will usually perform some therapeutic exercise and/or functional training.  Depending on your plan of care, your therapist may perform range of motion, mobilize a joint or massage a muscle to promote normal movement and function.  Physical therapists may also use ultrasound, electrotherapy, hot packs, traction, ice packs or another modality depending on the injury.
  3. 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.
  4. Home exercise program: Your therapist will also develop an individualized home exercise program for you to practice to help speed up your recovery process.

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!

Comments (3)

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  1. Maria Isabel says:

    This is a good explanation of what Physical Therapists have to learn to become one. It also tells you how they help people in need of healing as well as give exercises to prevent an injury from reoccurring.

  2. Physical therapy is an excellent way of treatment but the home exercise programs for prevention of injuries makes it an exclusive therapy, as there is an age-old proverb ‘Prevention is better than Cure’.

  3. […] October Is Also National Physical Therapy Month! […]

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