Concorde Blog - Oct 28, 2020
Although pain medications can help many people live with chronic pain and injuries, there are alternative treatments available to cure the source of the discomfort. One particular treatment that has grown in prevalence over the years is physical therapy. Through hands-on appointments and rigorous independent exercises, patients experiencing pain and mobility issues can find relief. Learn why so many people are turning to physical therapy and some of the benefits a career in physical therapy can offer.
What Is Physical Therapy?
Physical therapy is a hands-on treatment plan where patients meet with licensed medical professionals to resolve or lessen any pain or mobility issues they may be experiencing. Through diagnosis and treatment, a physical therapist uses a series of therapies to help patients live healthy, active lives once again. Some of these therapies include:
- Stretches and exercises.
- Light therapy.
- Cold therapy (cryotherapy).
- Moist heat therapy.
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation.
- Electrical stimulation.
What Conditions Does Physical Therapy Treat?
Physical therapy is used to treat a variety of conditions. Relief from this treatment often doesn't happen overnight, but patients can eventually find comfort and better mobility when they follow their physical therapist's orders and treatment plans. Patients typically seek physical therapy when they are experiencing the following health conditions:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Trigger finger.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
- Cystic fibrosis.
- Post-myocardial infarction.
- Back pain.
- Rotator cuff tears.
- Temporomandibular joint disorders.
- Spinal cord injuries.
- Parkinson's disease.
- Multiple sclerosis.
- Vestibular dysfunction.
- Traumatic brain injuries.
- Developmental delays.
- Cerebral palsy.
- Muscular dystrophy.
- Sports-related injuries (ie. ligament tears and tennis elbow).
- Urinary incontinence.
- Pelvic floor dysfunction.
Who Is Most Likely to Use Physical Therapy?
Many people seek physical therapy to find relief. When seeking a treatment plan, most patients first meet with their primary care provider to discuss their options. Although medication can help manage pain, it's not a way to cure pain. That's why many doctors recommend that their patients seek physical therapy treatment. Once a patient receives this referral, they can meet with a physical therapist to start their treatment. Of course, every health care plan is different, and some patients can begin treatment without a referral.
Although anyone with an applicable health condition can use physical therapy as a treatment, it's most commonly used in these populations:
- People with disabilities.
- People with chronic health conditions.
- People recovering from surgery.
- Elderly patients.
What Are the Different Types of Physical Therapy?
A physical therapist may see a wide range of patients or choose to specialize in a certain area of medicine. As a specialist, they can focus on developing their skills in one area and deepen their knowledge to better treat a certain group. Physical therapy can be broken up into the following categories:
- Geriatric physical therapy: This therapy helps elderly patients cope with conditions that affect their physical function and mobility, such as osteoporosis, Alzheimer's disease, joint and hip replacements, arthritis, and balance disorders. The goal of this treatment is to help older patients regain mobility, reduce their pain, and live more active lives.
- Orthopedic physical therapy: This therapy treats musculoskeletal injuries that involve tendons, fascias, bones, ligaments, and muscles. Patients experiencing fractures, sprains, chronic pain, and inflammation of their musculoskeletal system commonly use this kind of physical therapy. It's also used by those recovering from orthopedic surgery. Treatments such as manual therapy, strength training, and joint mobilization are common.
- Neurological physical therapy: Patients who have neurological conditions, such as brain injuries, Alzheimer's disease, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, strokes, and spinal cord injuries benefit from this therapy. Treatment is intended to reduce paralysis, increase muscle strength, and increase limb responsiveness.
- Pediatric physical therapy: Infants, children, and adolescents experiencing a variety of health conditions can complete pediatric physical therapy. It's often intended for young patients who have musculoskeletal conditions, like torticollis, spina bifida, developmental delays, and cerebral palsy. The aim is to treat and manage these conditions to allow the child to live a more comfortable, happy life.
- Cardiovascular and pulmonary rehabilitation: This treatment helps people with cardiopulmonary conditions increase their stamina and physical endurance. It can also be used for patients following surgery. Physical therapy treatment often involves physical exercises in addition to breathing exercises.
- Wound care therapy: Those with healing wounds complete this therapy. The goal is the promote more blood flow, improve circulation, and get more oxygen to the wound. Therapies often include electric stimulation, wound care, compression, and manual therapy.
- Vestibular therapy: This therapy helps with balance problems that are a result of inner ear conditions, such as vertigo and Meniere's syndrome. The goal of this therapy is to help patients regain their balance and coordination.
- Decongestive therapy: This treatment helps patients drain accumulated fluid that results from conditions like lymphedema. The goal is to use compression in conjunction with exercise to promote drainage.
- Pelvic floor rehabilitation: Patients with urinary or fecal incontinence, pelvic pain, and urinary urgency benefit from this therapy. These conditions may be a result of other underlying conditions, injuries, or surgery. Pelvic floor rehabilitation aims to strengthen muscles surrounding the pelvic region.
What Are the Benefits of Physical Therapy?
When it comes to physical therapy, slow and steady wins the race. Throughout an individual's treatment plan, their physical therapist introduces new therapies, exercises, and stretches. The key to finding relief is for the patient to stay diligent with their personalized treatment plan when they leave the office and need to do their exercises at home. When regularly meeting with a physical therapist and staying on top of their instructions, patients can experience the following benefits:
One of the top reasons people seek physical therapy is to get rid of or reduce pain. Many of the exercises physical therapists prescribe are intended to build strength and improve mobility. These factors can help an individual move comfortably and avoid pain. Over the course of their treatment, a physical therapist may mobilize their patients' joints and soft tissues and restore muscle function. Eventually, when using the regimen the physical therapist recommends, a patient can discontinue their visits and manage their pain independently.
Less Dependence on Pain Medication
In 2018, data found that 128 Americans die each day (1) from overdosing on opioids. Along with street drugs, many of these deaths are a result of prescribed pain medication abuse. Due to this staggering rise of addiction and death, health care professionals are looking for alternatives to opioids. More doctors are starting patients on physical therapy before prescribing such addictive medications. Through this physical treatment, many patients see great results without ever having to risk a drug addiction or adverse side effects from medication.
Along with helping patients recover from injuries, physical therapy can prevent them from happening in the first place. A physical therapist can target weak areas on a patient's body and develop a treatment plan to strengthen them. Through treatment, a patient can also learn how to move their body properly and take care of themselves to avoid further issues. For example, a physical therapist may help a patient work on their posture, thus avoiding future back pain.
Since many surgeries are hard on the body, most doctors try physical therapy first to see if they can avoid operations. Patients may find that through hands-on treatment, they no longer experience the concerns that would warrant surgery. With every surgery comes some level of risk, so finding ways to avoid it may be best for especially vulnerable patients.
Better Post-Surgery Recovery
Even if patients do undergo necessary operations, physical therapy is a great tool to help them properly recover. It can improve circulation, which aids in healing. It can also strengthen muscles, which improves mobility and prevents reinjury. Along with restoring the body's function, physical therapy can also help patients find pain relief after their surgeries.
Improved Quality of Life
Many patients who seek physical therapy have been suffering from their conditions for an extended period of time. This is especially true when they are unsure of the underlying causes of their symptoms. Through physical therapy, they can begin to live without chronic discomfort. Instead of constantly focusing on their pain or lack of mobility, they can freely move around and begin to explore more physical activities.
Both elderly patients and those with disabilities often rely on others to get around in the world. When they find they can get around better through physical therapy, these groups can start to find more independence and start doing more on their own. Being less reliant on others gives them more freedom and spontaneity throughout their days.
Better Athletic Performance
Athletes can use physical therapy to recover from sports-related injuries and improve their endurance. By ensuring their bodies are reaching their full potential, they can improve control over their movements, leading to better performance. Along with this, athletes can use physical therapy to avoid injury, which means they can get more playing time. Since high-performing athletes are more prone to injury, physical therapy is especially useful for this group.
Manage Lifelong Conditions
Although physical therapy can't make every health issue go away, it can help people suffering from certain conditions and diseases live a better quality of life. For instance, those with diabetes and vascularÂ ailmentsÂ can benefit from physical therapy exercises. These movements can help them manage their blood sugar and live healthier lives. Likewise, those with heart and lung diseases can use it to recover from heart attacks or lung operations.
Improved Movement and Balance
The goal of many physical therapy treatment plans is to help the patient regain their previous capabilities. Of course, those with preexisting conditions may have the goal to have more mobility than ever before. When people can properly move, they can stay on top of healthy habits, like regular exercising and stretching. This results in a positive feedback loop. Likewise, regaining balance can help a person safely move around and reduce their risk of falling.
What Are the Benefits of a Physical Therapy Career?
A career in physical therapy is incredibly rewarding for those who like to directly improve the lives of others. Many people who seek a career in physical therapy consider becoming a physical therapist assistant. These professionals work under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist, and they spend most of their time interacting and observing patients. Here are some of the benefits of being a physical therapy assistant:
- Helping people improve their lives: When patients are experiencing chronic pain and mobility issues, their quality of life may deteriorate. By being a part of their treatment plan, physical therapist assistants can help people begin to live pain-free and move around better.
- Rising job demand: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for physical therapist assistants and aides is supposed to grow by 29% from 2019 to 2029 (3), which is much faster than average. In part, the rise of chronic back pain (2) plays a role in the growing demand for physical therapist assistants.
- Hands-on work: Those who want to work with their hands should consider a career as a physical therapist assistant. Although part of the job is spent on the computer, the majority of their workday involves working directly with patients.
- Respected profession: Many people know just how important physical therapy is. Physical therapist assistants are highly regarded in their field. Thanks to them, many people can eventually live pain-free or avoid more serious health conditions.
Physical therapy is a treatment that can help people regain control over their lives again. If you're interested in playing a part in this treatment, consider training for a career as a physical therapy assistant. Through Concorde's physical therapy assistant program, you can achieve your associate degree in as little as 19 months. Learn more about this program and other patient care programs to get started on your education journey.
- "Opioid Overdose Crisis," National Institute on Drug Abuse, https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis
- "Chronic Back Pain," Cleveland Clinic, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/16869-chronic-back-pain
- "Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapist-assistants-and-aides.htm
- "Image," adammcguffie, https://www.flickr.com/photos/adammcguffie/34789086373/sizes/m/