October is National Physical Therapy Month, spotlighting a vital health care discipline that provides a safe, effective alternative pathway to pain relief. Physical therapy strengthens the body, improves range of motion, and restores function while providing pain relief that can lessen dependence on medication. Read on to learn about the benefits of physical therapy!
Benefits of Physical Therapy
Physical therapy is a complex discipline that can be utilized as part of a recovery or rehabilitation program for any number of conditions.
Pain Management: Manual therapy techniques, as well as therapeutic exercises and treatments, to relieve pain, break down scar tissue, and restore joint function and motion to reduce pain.
Improved Mobility: Identification of specific issues affecting movement. Strengthening exercises and stretching to rebuild muscle and increase joint range of motion. Proper fitting for an assistive device.
Improved Balance: Screening for fall risks. Coordination and balance exercises, as well as techniques that reduce vertigo symptoms and restore inner-ear balance.
Managing Diabetes and Vascular Conditions: Exercise to control blood sugar. Foot and wound care to manage the effects of poor circulation to the legs, as well as therapies to improve circulation.
Aging Management: Exercises and techniques to help manage the effects of arthritis and osteoporosis, as well as joint pain and replacement.
Avoiding/Recovering from Surgery: Strengthen muscles and rebuild range of motion after surgery. Pre-surgery physical therapy to ease recovery or avoid surgery altogether.
Recovery from Stroke or Heart Attack: Regain strength, balance, coordination, and control of movement.
Sports Injury Prevention and Management: Design plans for injury recovery or prevention tailored to the demands of a particular sport.
Physical therapy has something to offer anyone, and this is possibly its greatest strength: adaptability. The ability to meet each individual patient's needs with therapy plans created alongside the patient not only creates better outcomes, but also allows more autonomy and independence for a patient with a serious injury or chronic condition.
Physical Therapy Methods and Techniques
Exercise: Physical stress applied to the body in a way that improves strength, range of motion, and flexibility. Exercise can be active or passive.
Passive exercise only requires that you relax while a physical therapist applies stress. This is common with various forms of stretching.
Active exercise includes anything that you perform under your own power, including walking and many strengthening and stretching exercises.
Soft-Tissue Mobilization Therapy: The soft tissue surrounds and supports organs and other bodily structures that include tendons, ligaments, fascia, skin, fat, and muscles. Soft tissue injuries include:
Soft tissue injuries include:
- Stress injuries
Mobilization therapy for soft tissue involves manual techniques similar to massage: pushing, pulling, and kneading the muscles, ligaments, and tendons, and nerves. Done correctly, this can reduce pain, increase functionality and range of motion, and break down adhesions, painful scar tissue resulting from the body's attempts to heal a soft tissue injury. This can also be effective for joints!
TENS: Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, the use of electrical current to manage pain, by disrupting the pain signals sent to the brain, or deliver medication into injured areas of the body.
Hydrotherapy: A variety of physical therapy methods utilize the properties of water, such as its stable temperature and controllable resistance, for pain relief and physical rehabilitation.
Aquatic therapy involves treatments and exercises that make use of the pressure and resistance the body encounters while submerged in water to strengthen muscles, improve balance, and increase range of motion. Due to the buoyancy of water and the the stability of water pressure, this is particularly useful for patients with movement hindered by injury or inflammation, for whom the use of weights might be detrimental.
Ice packs and cold packs are applied to injured areas to reduce pain and decrease inflammation.
Moist heat and hot packs are applied to injured areas to increase circulation, relax muscles, and reduce pain.
Whirlpool baths submerge a patient in hot or cold water that flows around an injured body part to improve circulation, reduce inflammation, and keep wounds clean while healing. They can also be a location for aquatic therapy.
Kinesiology Tape: A flexible fabric tape applied to the skin in specific directions that stretches and pulls during regular motion, reducing pain, managing bruising or swelling, and facilitating or inhibiting movement.
Occupational Therapy: A related discipline, occupational therapy focuses on helping you perform day-to-day tasks, tailored to your specific workplace and home environment. It focuses on making common daily activities and motions easier through assistive technology and environmental adjustment.
Physical Therapy in Your Daily Routine
You don't need to wait for old age or injury to benefit from physical therapy. The techniques and exercises utilized by therapists can be added to your daily routine to both build and relax muscle, helping prevent future injury.
Stretching: Don't neglect stretching! Most of us have jobs that require sitting for long periods, which tightens leg muscles. This can easily lead to injury during not just recreational activities like sports, but normal daily activities. Adding stretching routines to your day will relax these muscles, increasing range of motion and reducing tension. Special areas of focus include:
Knee Stretches: The most commonly injured joint across all age groups is the knee. Extended periods of sitting, as at work and driving, can tighten the muscles that flex this joint, making them more susceptible to injury. Consider: calf, hamstring, quadriceps, and ilitotibial band stretches.
Back Stretches: Back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide, affecting 80% of people at some point in life. The back is a complex structure of joints, ligaments, muscles, and bones, and the causes of back pain or injury are diverse. Consider side, abdominal, hamstring, gluteus, and back rotator streches.
Exercise: Regular exercise to strengthen muscles is a major component of physical therapy. Unlike the often high-impact cardio work and weight training we picture when thinking of exercise, physical therapy exercises are less intense and more centered on steady, controlled motions to strengthen muscle.
Hip Strengthening Exercises: The hips bear much of the body's weight. Consider hip squeezes (using a ball), leg raises, therapy band stretches and walks, and ball bridges.
Back and Core Strengthening Exercises: Strengthening the back and core together helps improve spine mobility and relax the many muscles that connect in this area. Consider crunches, planks, lunges, bridges, and press ups.
Posture: You probably haven't thought about your posture since the last time your parents chastised you for it -- we haven't either! But maintaining correct posture reduces strain on your body. Benefits include:
- Keeping bones and joints in correct alignment, which decreases abnormal joint surface wear.
- Reducing stress on ligaments, particularly those in the spine, decreasing injury risk.
- Preventing muscle strain, overuse disorders, and back and muscular pain.
- Allowing muscles to work with less resistance, reducing muscle fatigue.
Consider: posture correcting exercise devices, as well as supportive positioning devices.
Physical therapy is about independence: maintaining, restoring, and building autonomy. It's about improving the quality and ease of everyday life. But it doesn't have to be useful only in a worst-case scenario. The methods and exercises developed by therapists can be adapted to your daily routine. The lessons of physical therapy can be tailored to every aspect of your your life.