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What is physical therapy?

Jul6th 2020

Who do we help? 
Physical Therapy is a profession whose primary focus is helping people overcome physical impairments and so improves their ability to function in their world. This definition covers a wide range of problems that people may experience. As a result, we are commonly involved in helping people with orthopedic problems related to shoulder, lower back, foot/ankle, knee, neck or hip. And these orthopedic issues can be occurring in an athlete, a production worker, or even a geriatric patient all just as easily. As a profession, we are also involved in helping young children and even babies develop properly so they can have the opportunity to grow and live a normal life. Also, physical therapy works with neurological patients who have had a stroke, a spinal cord injury, as well as diseases like Multiple Sclerosis or Parkinson’s.

The common element in all these examples is assisting people recover the ability to move functionally without pain, and reach their potential regarding strength, endurance, and coordination. All in all, a physical therapist is a valuable professional for a society that needs to stay healthy and active in order to be productive and fulfilled.

How do we help people?
The tools of a physical therapist are varied but their main tool is their ability to observe and assess the individual in order to understand the full scope of their deficits. From this, a plan can be devised to assist someone back to their previous level of ability and comfort. Physical therapists use hands on techniques related to joint and soft tissue mobilization, stretching, and exercises to address many deficits related to motion, weakness, pain, balance, or endurance. The key in this process is helping change a patient’s movement habits that promote stress and pain in their musculoskeletal system.

In addition, physical therapists focus on helping a patient have a better understanding of their painful condition and how to use that information to avoid future problems. Prevention is a growing subspecialty in physical therapy where it is valued   in industry, sports, and even office environments to help people avoid injuries. All activities, even walking, create imbalances over time in joints and muscles that if addressed would allow for more enjoyment and proficiency in that activity.

Physical therapy uses other tools as well to assist in the healing process depending on each patient’s unique needs. Modalities that can increase blood flow and promote healing include heat and ultrasound. Iontophoresis, ice, and ultrasound can help reduce inflammation; while spasm and pain can be helped with a variety of devices that use electrical current.   Modalities form just a small piece of what a physical therapist has to offer to a patient and depending on the phase of recovery they can be helpful. In the end, they are passive in nature and should be a temporary component to a well-designed therapeutic program.

Passive modalities as mentioned above or even massage, medication, adjustments or rest will eventually plateau in their effectiveness to restore function.   These interventions will not, by themselves, typically help a person overcome patterns of compensation that are responsible for ongoing problems. Eventually, a person needs to have an active program of specific exercises and a good understanding of their purpose in order to develop more independence in self-care. Physical therapy is the primary health care profession that addresses the body from a comprehensive musculoskeletal viewpoint and strives to help people be more independent in their own orthopedic needs. Patients who understand their active role in the recovery process will, in the long run, derive more satisfaction and benefits from learning how to be more physically self-sufficient.

We are a diverse profession
As well, within our profession it is important to note that there can be a great deal of difference in how a physical problem is approached and solved especially if it is complex or has a long history. Physical therapy is a diverse profession which brings treatment philosophies together under one name from all over the world. Yes, there are many   common elements to treatment but ultimately much will depend on the individual physical therapist’s training and experience.

You have a choice
A prospective patient needs to know they have a choice in where they go for physical therapy. There are no laws or regulations that control where someone receives PT except if they are using worker’s compensation insurance. A potential PT provider should be chosen by looking for a history of getting good results. Perhaps the best approach is to talk to family and friends and become informed on where people have had success. There are many places to receive physical therapy from hospital based and large corporate facilities to independent private practices like Full Potential.

Physical Therapy and your Health
In the final analysis, one of the greatest benefits of physical therapy is to help people create or renew a relationship with their own body. Physical therapy creates that connection through exercise and training which allows a patient to feel and understand their body better. The more the individual understands the needs and priorities of this amazing system, the more enjoyment and longevity the body will provide. Yes, the cost to the individual will be their time and effort but the results can be worth it. The gift of health is no small achievement and typically, in the long run, it is something that is earned versus given.

There is an old saying “the body is built right but we just use it wrong.” Physical therapy is the link to learning how to use it right and Full Potential is an organization that would love to assist you in that process.