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What Is Physical Therapy? An Overview of Physical Therapy

What is Physical Therapy & What Happens During Physical Therapy Treatment?

What Is Physical Therapy An Overview of Physical Therapy

Physical therapy, also called physiotherapy, is a program to help people return to full strength, function and mobility after a sickness, an injury or surgery. Physical therapy is a nonsurgical treatment option to correct a medical problem. Physical therapy can also help someone with a disability remain active and independent as long as possible. When the patient is consistent with physical therapy and follows the recommended guidelines, exercises and other techniques, they can help prevent the problem from getting progressively worse or recurring.

Physical therapy is a dynamic profession with an established theoretical and scientific base and widespread clinical applications in the restoration, maintenance and promotion of optimal physical function. This includes:

Examining individuals with impairment, functional limitation, and disability or other health-related conditions in order to determine a diagnosis, prognosis, and intervention.

Alleviating impairment and functional limitation by designing, implementing, and modifying therapeutic interventions.

Preventing injury, impairment, functional limitation, and disability, including the promotion and maintenance of fitness, health, and quality of life in people of all ages.

Engaging in consultation, education, and research

Physical therapy is a non-invasive discipline that helps individuals develop, maintain and restore maximum body movement and physical function. Physical therapy can help clients recover from an injury, relieve pain, prevent future injury or deal with a chronic condition. It can be applied at any age or stage of life. The ultimate goal of physical therapy is to improve health and quality of life.

According to the American Physical Therapy Association, there are roughly 175,000 practicing physical therapists in the U.S. who have attended one of roughly 200 accredited physical therapy programs.They are highly educated professionals who undertake a 4 -6 year program of college training in biological and medical sciences. They amass extensive knowledge of the body and its movements. They must also pass a national licensure examination and maintain state licensing requirements.

Physical therapy is a healthcare specialty that includes the evaluation, assessment, and treatment of individuals with limitations in functional mobility.

Choosing physical therapy has been shown to help you recover quickly and safely, and it can save you money due to decreased overall healthcare costs.

What Is a Physical Therapist?

According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), a physical therapist is a trained and licensed medical professional with experience in diagnosing physical abnormalities, restoring physical function and mobility, maintaining physical function, and promoting physical activity and proper function.

Physical therapists are specialists in evaluating and treating disorders of the human body primarily by physical means. Whether the condition results from injury, disease or other causes, they focus primarily on those individuals who have disturbed function or impairment related to the musculoskeletal, neurological, cardiopulmonary, and integumentary (skin) systems. PTs evaluate the functioning of these systems and apply the appropriate treatment to alleviate pain and improve physical function. These services are in great need by people of all ages and backgrounds.

Licensed physical therapists can be found in a range of healthcare settings including outpatient offices, private practices, hospitals, rehab centers, nursing homes, home health, sports and fitness settings, schools, hospices, occupational settings, government agencies, and research centers.

Physical therapists work as part of an individual’s treatment team. Generally, they begin by conducting an evaluation, which includes a medical history and a physical examination. Based on this information, the physical therapist will structure a treatment plan, monitor progress and provide some manual (hands-on) support for exercises.

The field requires good communication and problem-solving skills, and the ability to perform rigorous physical activity. Physical Therapists enjoy working with people and outside a traditional office environment. PTs work in a variety of settings, from hospitals to athletic facilities to nursing homes, schools and clinics.

The degree required to become a practicing physical therapist in the U.S. today is the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT). All states and territories in the United States also require a license to practice physical therapy. Each state requires the National Board Examination (NPTE) but each state may have additional criteria for obtaining licensure.

As the first program established west of the Mississippi, the University of Kansas has long been a pioneer in Physical Therapy education. From consistently high rankings by national publications to recognition as a leader in research in rehabilitation science, KU has a record of demonstrated excellence in this exciting, dynamic health care field.

What Does a Physical Therapist Do?

PTs provide services that help restore function, improve mobility, relieve pain, and prevent or limit permanent physical disabilities of patients with injuries or disease. PTs work closely with patients to restore, maintain, and promote their overall fitness and health. Patients may include accident victims and individuals with disabling conditions such as low back pain, fractures, head injuries, arthritis, heart disease, and cerebral palsy.

PTs examine patients’ medical histories, then test and measure their strength, range of motion, balance and coordination, posture, muscle performance, respiration, and motor function. They also determine the patient’s ability to be independent and reintegrated into the community or workplace after injury or illness. Finally, they develop treatment plans describing a treatment strategy, its purpose, and the anticipated outcome.

In Illinois, you can be referred to a physical therapist for evaluation and/or treatment. Physical therapists accept referrals from physicians, dentists, advanced practice nurses, physician assistants, podiatrists, and chiropractors.

You may also independently seek the opinion of a physical therapist. A referral is not required for a physical therapy evaluation.

What Does a Physical Therapist Do?

What Does a Physical Therapist Assistant Do?

PTAs perform components of physical therapy procedures and related tasks, as directed by a supervising physical therapist (PT). PTAs help patients who have movement difficulties due to injury or disease, by assisting the PT with therapies designed to improve mobility, relieve pain, and prevent or limit permanent physical disability. Patients may include accident victims and individuals with short and long-term disabling conditions, such as low back pain, fractures, head injuries, arthritis, heart disease, and cerebral palsy.

Do You Need Physical Therapy?

How do you know if you require the skilled services of a physical therapist? If you have an injury or illness that results in pain, physical impairment, or limited normal movement/loss of function, a physical therapist can help.4 Physical therapists treat people across the entire lifespan. Many PTs specialize in treating a certain population, like children, the elderly, or athletes. Regardless of age, if you have impaired mobility, a physical therapy evaluation may be warranted to offer treatment and a strategy to improve function.

Physical therapy (PT) is care that aims to ease pain and help you function, move, and live better. Specifically, physical therapy looks to achieve these objectives for their patients:

  • Relieve pain
  • Improve movement or ability
  • Prevent or recover from a sports injury
  • Prevent disability or surgery
  • Rehab after a stroke, accident, injury, or surgery
  • Work on balance to prevent a slip or fall
  • Manage a chronic illness like diabetes, heart disease, or arthritis
  • Recover after you give birth
  • Control your bowels or bladder
  • Adapt to an artificial limb
  • Learn to use assistive devices like a walker or cane

Importance of Physical Therapy

Goals of Physical Therapy

A variety of benefits are offered by physical therapy, including decreased discomfort, enhanced function, increased range of motion, good posture, and more. The main purpose of physical therapy, of course, is to regain function and return to activity, but these aspects are also a by-product of the broader phase of recovery, through which many people learn a whole new way of moving.

Physical Therapy is an Education

When they start physical therapy, most patients believe they know how to move properly. Physical therapists are qualified to spot shortcomings in the body’s biomechanics. Physical trainers are also able to target particular areas of weakness or poor alignment.

Many patients consider physical therapy to be very academic. It is a chance to learn about your own body and to recognise patterns of movement that are linked to your injury.

Physical Therapy is Customized

Physical therapists are experts in proper recovery procedures that are skilled and trained. In order to create individualized recovery services, they are informed about surgical techniques and treatment objectives and work closely with the referring physician.

Physical therapists combine their understanding of medical procedures and recovery, offering the ultimate personalized treatment, with what they identify about the body. They will look at your behaviors, habits, and limits of movement; determine your recovery rate; and develop a program to help you return to action.

Physical Therapy is Important

Whether or not you undergo surgery, an essential part of recovery from an accident is physical therapy.

Fix defective movement patterns: Physical therapy will help to resolve the underlying pain-related symptoms if you have an injury or chronic pain. It can not only offer relief from discomfort, but it can also help you make corrections to avoid ongoing issues. Physical therapy is also sufficient to handle an injury and get you back into the game.

Preventing scar tissue build-up: It is common for scar tissue to develop after an injury or surgery; however, it is necessary to avoid the build-up of this scar tissue because it may cause discomfort and tightness. In order to avoid this build-up and ensure that the accumulation of scar tissue does not hinder healing, physical therapists use stretching and other manual techniques.

Stretch tight muscles and joints: For maintaining flexibility and range of motion, stretching is important. An effective stretching regimen will be planned for you by your physical therapist.

Strengthen: Strengthening exercises help reinforce the musculature around you, which can help minimize joint pressure. Physical therapy can help you strengthen the muscles and surrounding muscles associated with your injury. Sometimes, imbalances in strength contribute to injury.

Improve outcomes: By treating discomfort, scar tissue, resilience, range of motion, and more, physical therapy helps optimize post-surgical performance.

Don’t slack on your physical therapy if you want pain relief, enhanced mobility, improved strength and flexibility, and good alignment. It is an integral part of healing from any injury.

Conditions Requiring Rehabilitation

It’s common to associate physical treatment programs with recovery from serious injuries or surgery, but there are many conditions for which these programs show promise. You may not realize your health issues can be helped with a physical approach. Even some apparently simple conditions often accepted as inevitable can get better with the right combination of treatments.

Programs for strength and movement may be prescribed for:

• Chronic diseases
• Chronic pain
• Concomitant effects of cancer, heart disease and similar ailments
• Congenital diseases
• General pain management
• Inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis
• Nerve pain
• Neuromuscular disorders
• Overuse injuries, including carpal tunnel syndrome
• Pain in specific areas of the body
• Post-surgical recovery
• Spinal cord injury
• Sports injuries
• Stroke recovery
• Traumatic injury

Physical Therapy: Methods And Treatments

Physical Therapy: Methods And Treatments

At the first physical therapy session, the physical therapist assesses your needs. A history of your pain, symptoms, ability to move and your medical history will be taken.

Tests will measure:

  • How well you can move around, reach, bend, or grasp
  • How well you walk or climb steps
  • Your heartbeat or rhythm while active
  • Your posture and balance


Treatments can include the following:

  • Exercises or stretches
  • Massage, heat, or cold therapy, warm water therapy, or ultrasound to ease muscle pain or spasms
  • Rehab to help you learn to use an artificial limb
  • Practice with gadgets that help you move or stay balanced, like a cane or walker

Physical medicine is able to treat so many different conditions because of its versatility. Therapists know how to design programs combining the right types of treatments to aid healing and move you toward recovery.

Manual therapy, also called bodywork, is a common treatment. Massage, mobilization and manipulation are used to address pain and tension in muscles, connective tissue and joints. Some practitioners are skilled in decongestive lymphatic drainage, a massage technique to reduce inflammation by addressing problems with the flow of lymph fluid.

Other treatments often used include ultrasound, electrical stimulation and low-level laser therapy to promote healing in muscles and connective tissue. Functional electrical stimulation may be used to improve muscle function after an injury.

Exercise is part of many physical treatment programs. Your therapist may prescribe stretches, strength training, walking, light cardiovascular exercise or water exercises to address and correct physical limitations.

Read more Physical Therapy Exercises You Can Do at Home

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