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What is Physical Therapy?

October is National Physical Therapy Month. It's a time to raise awareness about the many benefits of PT and a great opportunity, for us at Therafit Physical Therapy, to appreciate all that our PTs, PTAs, and students do to transform lives.

What is physical therapy? And how might it help you? We'll provide answers to these questions and more in this blog.

What is Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy is treatment or series of treatments that are performed by a trained physical therapist to help improve mobility and the ability to function. It is often performed to address an injury, disease or disability.

Its aim is to promote wellness, mobility and independent function. Physical therapists draw on advanced understanding of how the body moves, what keeps it from moving well and how to restore mobility to treat their patients.

How Can PT Help Me? Could Physical Therapy be a fit for Me?

Physical therapists are experts on movement and function. At Therafit, our physical therapists are skilled at assessing and managing a range of conditions including:

  • Physical conditions such as back pain, arthritis and repetitive strain injury
  • Sports injuries
  • Post surgery recovery
  • Physical complications of cancer and its treatment
  • Incontinence
  • Mobility problems related to neurological disorders such as stroke, spinal cord injury or Parkinson’s disease
  • Pre- and post-natal problems and other women’s health conditions
  • Neck and back pain and other joint injuries
  • Respiratory and cardiac conditions
  • Dizziness and vestibular dysfunction
  • And more

Therafit can also help you to prevent most of the above conditions by offering advice on posture, exercise and workplace and lifestyle habits.

What Could I Expect at a Physical Therapy Appointment?

Physical therapists are highly skilled in treating movement and neuro-musculoskeletal disorders. Pain often accompanies a movement disorder, and physical therapists can help correct the disorder and relieve the pain.

Physical therapists can also help to prevent most of the above conditions by offering advice on posture, exercise, workplace and lifestyle habits.

At Therafit Physical Therapy your physical therapists will work as part of a team with you and sometimes other health care providers or sports coaches. The success of your physical therapy program usually requires your cooperation outside of the clinic. You will probably be required to participate in an exercise program or some modifications to your postural or lifestyle habits. Your dedication to your physical therapy "homework" will greatly enhance the outcome of your physical therapy program and will help you to achieve your goals as quickly as possible.

You can expect your physical therapist will follow the system below to ensure your time in physical therapy and at home is used effectively to reach your goals.

  • Assess your symptoms. 
  • Diagnose your condition.
  • Plan your treatment.
  • Treat your condition.
  • Continually evaluate the effect of treatment on your condition and adjust the treatment plan if necessary.
  • Help you to manage your condition at home and to prevent reoccurrence of problems.
  • Communicate with any other health professionals involved with your condition, such as your doctor, to ensure a united approach to achieving your goals.

At Therafit our physical therapists keep up-to-date with the latest in medical and sports science research to help them select treatments that have been scientifically proven to help your condition.  This is called "Evidence Based Practice".

Several of our physical therapists are also trained in dry needling, to treat pain and movement impairments, for patients that are interested in exploring this option. 

Dry needling is a technique that uses a thin filiform needle to penetrate the skin and stimulate underlying myofascial trigger points (painful knots in muscles), tendons, ligaments, and connective tissue  This modern, science-based intervention can be especially helpful for the treatment of neck pain, shoulder impingement, tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches, knee pain and arthritis, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, low back pain and sacroiliac dysfunction, and more.

Some of the Treatments Our Physical Therapists May Use Include:

  • Mobilization of joints
  • Therapeutic exercise
  • Electrotherapy such as ultrasound therapy and electrical stimulation
  • Massage
  • Advice and education

The baseline education of all Physical Therapists at Therafit Physical Therapy includes post-secondary training in a broad range of disciplines which enables them to assess and treat a variety of injuries and problems. Many of our Physical Therapists go on to focus their practice in one particular area by undertaking extra training, and by developing knowledge and skills through treatment of a  large volume of patients within an area of interest.

What Practice Areas Can PTs Focus On? 

Orthopedic Physical Therapy - Probably the most common Physical Therapy practice area is orthopedics. These practitioners are skilled in post-surgical care, fracture rehabilitation, muscle sprain and strain injuries, neck and back pain, hip and knee problems, shoulder, elbow, and wrist conditions, as well as arthritis, tendinitis injuries, and a wide variety of other orthopedic problems. Some therapists even go on to further focus within orthopedics to one particular body part or injury, for example, neck pain resulting from whiplash.

Manual Therapy - Manual therapy is a broad term that describes a variety of hands-on treatment techniques. Mobilizations, manipulations, Mulligan techniques, Maitland and Kaltenborn techniques, neural mobilizations, joint mobilizations, craniosacral therapy, strain/counter strain, and myofascial release are examples of some commonly used manual therapy techniques. Most Physical Therapists dealing with orthopaedic conditions incorporate some form of manual therapy as a part of their treatment plan.

Geriatric Physical Therapy- Some therapists focus particularly on rehabilitation for seniors. As the body ages, a variety of age-specific challenges arise. The body stiffens, loses strength, balance declines, bones may become brittle (osteopenia) and easily break (osteoporosis,) endurance decreases, and it takes longer to recover from injuries. Balance and fall prevention are of paramount importance to the therapist who is working with seniors and for this reason, some clinics are dedicated solely to caring for those with balance problems. Although most Physical Therapists work with some senior/geriatric patients, geriatric Physical Therapists deal solely with the aged population and are therefore especially skilled in dealing with the age-related changes that occur.

Sports Rehabilitation – Sports Physical Therapists are focused on assisting with recovery after injury or surgery related to a sporting activity. They have extra training and knowledge of the unique injuries that sporting activity can create, whether at a recreational or Olympic level. Each sport tends to generate a common set of injuries and sports.  Physical Therapists are knowledgeable in dealing with these specific injuries as well as the many other non-specific injuries that occur due to sport participation. Sport-specific programs, such as throwing, running or swimming tend to be incorporated into the rehabilitation used by these therapists with the goal of getting the patient back to the specified sport as soon as safely possible. Many sport Physical Therapists will also use manual therapy techniques (see above) as part of their rehabilitation programs.

Fitness and Wellness – All Physical Therapists at Therafit Physical Therapy have been trained with a baseline knowledge in fitness and wellness. Some Physical Therapists, however, focus their practice solely on creating or teaching individual or group programs for fitness or to prevent or deal with a wide variety of other health related areas.  Issues such as osteoporosis, diabetes, weight loss, cardiac problems, and fall prevention are examples of these focus areas.

Hand Therapy – All *physiotherap%ists at Therafit Physical Therapy have baseline training and knowledge in the rehabilitation of the hand after injury.  The hand, however, due to its complex anatomy, functional ability and importance for normal daily function, has become an entire practice area on its own.  Hand therapists tend to work very closely with plastic surgeons that specialize in hand operations, and also work very closely with occupational therapists to ensure that the function of the hand post surgery or injury is maximized.

Women's Health – These Physical Therapists focus their practice in women's issues such as pregnancy problems, pelvic pain, and incontinence. When compared to men, women have both a unique body structure as well as specific gender-related health issues that can arise. Physical Therapists who work primarily in women’s health all have advanced knowledge and training regarding these problems and issues.

Industrial Rehabilitation – Physical Therapists in industrial rehabilitation deal specifically with patients that have suffered on-the-job injuries. They acquire extra training in such things as evaluating work tasks and ergonomics, fabricating assistive devices, and helping to redesign work flow/tasks to decrease the incidence of injury. Often industrial rehabilitation Physical Therapists will evaluate the ability to perform specific job tasks by performing a Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE) and will then use this information to modify job tasks in order to maximize rehabilitation.

Aquatic Physical Therapy – Aquatic therapists take advantage of the physical properties of water to assist with the rehabilitative process. Buoyancy, turbulence, hydrostatic pressure, and the thermal properties of water can assist in the rehabilitation of a patient. Those suffering from chronic pain, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, lumbar fusion surgery, or with a limited weight-bearing status are just a few of the many different patient populations that can benefit from aquatic therapy.

Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation

Neurological Rehabilitation – A large portion of Physical Therapists work with patients who suffer from neurological conditions such as brain injury, spinal cord injuries, strokes, and other neurological diseases. The rehabilitation for these patients is highly specialized and includes functional training or retraining of their limbs in order to accomplish tasks such as moving around in bed (bed mobility,) getting in and out of a bed or chairs (transfer training,) walking, and wheelchair use if needed.

Dizziness and Vertigo Rehabilitation – Some Physical Therapists and entire clinics devote their practice to the rehabilitation of patients who suffer from dizziness or BPPV (benign paroxysmal positional vertigo). These therapists are highly skilled in managing these unique issues and the associated problems that arise.  The therapists are highly trained to use special techniques that affect sensory and balance centers of the brain and limbs in their rehabilitation.

Amputee Rehabilitation – These Physical Therapists focus their practice in the rehabilitation of amputees. Their special knowledge and expertise includes caring for the injured limb, training for the use of assistive devices (crutches, canes, prosthetic limbs, etc.), as well as functional activity and walking training.

Wound Care – Some Physical Therapists have further training in the treatment and care of wounds. This is another very focussed practice area and requires advanced knowledge in the removal of unviable tissue (debridement), the application of special dressings and prescription drugs/ointments, and the use of ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and aquatic modalities to promote healing.

Lymphedema Rehabilitation – These Physical Therapists have trained specifically in the treatment of the lymphatic system.  This system is a special component of the circulatory system that helps filter and drain fluid from our arms and legs. When this drainage system is damaged, painful and detrimental swelling can result which is called lymphedema. Common causes of lymphedema are cancer treatments, specific diseases, surgery or immobility. Special positioning, massage and bandaging techniques are utilized by the lymphedema Physical Therapists to both avoid the onset of lymphedema in high risk situations as well as treat it if it occurs.

Osteoporosis Rehabilitation and Prevention – Some Physical Therapists as well as entire clinics focus their practice in the evaluation and treatment of patients with osteoporosis (low bone mass leading to bone fragility and increased fractures.) These therapists work closely with medical doctors to educate their patients about this disease, and design very specific weight-bearing and resistance training programs to combat it.
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Want to know how we can specifically help you? Call Therafit at 978-452-9252.

(Ref: CPA, 2007.)