If you’ve had the fortune to never need physical therapy, you may think of it only as a kind of low-level exercise program. In movies, it’s that scene where the injured soldier slowly learns to walk again, or the relentless athlete makes their heartwarming comeback on some kind of rowing machine. The truth is that it’s a multifaceted field, one with several major components–exercise, manual therapy, and education.
Physical therapists prescribe exercise as a tool to help patients with injuries, illnesses, or medical conditions and to prevent future problems. We are trained to supervise and develop exercise routines that will help improve overall health without exacerbating existing issues. Physical therapy in the early stages often consists of exercises or stretches at a physical therapy center. Some of these exercises are with specialized equipment, while some, like walking or core strengthening, are things you can potentially do anywhere but may need some specialized guidance to do appropriately. Physical therapists also create at-home programs, and train patients in how to execute these stretches and activities in a way that’s safe for them.
Manual therapy, or bodywork, is a type of hands-on treatment where a professional moves or applies pressure to the body in a way that treats pain, improves flexibility, and reduces stress. One form of manual therapy is therapeutic massage, which can relax tissues, promote circulation, and relieve pain. Another is mobilization. During mobilization therapy, a physical therapist uses slow, targeted movements to ease bones and joints into position in order to improve flexibility and alignment. Finally, there is manipulation, which is the application of pressure to a joint. Manipulation may be performed by hand or with a specialized medical device.
A physical therapist is also an educator who teaches patients how to better care for their bodies. As educators, physical therapists help patients discover safer ways to go about their daily activities. They offer advice on how to protect vulnerable areas, such as joints, from future injury. When necessary, they help train patients in the effective use of assistive devices, such as wheelchairs. They may even provide assistance in reducing risk factors in the patient’s home.
Physical therapy is all about working with the specifics of each patient’s health, lifestyle, and environment. Because of this, physical therapy may have some other and unusual forms to fit specific cases. For example, physical therapists sometimes work with vertigo sufferers to “retrain” their inner ear to respond to changes in body position. They may offer specialized lymph node massages, to help with drainage in cases where the lymphatic system isn’t working correctly to drain tissues. Physical therapists even help with treating incontinence with pelvic exercises.
Because it’s essential for a good physical therapist to have a thorough understanding of your health and daily habits, it’s important to find one you trust. Interested in meeting our team? Request an appointment here!