Physical therapy: Treating injury and illness

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If we leave a car garaged and silent for weeks at a time, we can expect that it won’t be starting right up, if at all. After all, the car and its parts need movement. So do we. When we experience injury or health problems, it’s likely that our bodies, which at their optimum operate like well-oiled machines, will need some help to help us function.
“Pain-free movement is crucial to your quality of life, your ability to earn a living, and your independence,” the American Physical Therapy Association observes. “Physical therapists are movement experts who treat people of all ages and abilities, helping them improve and maintain function and quality of life.”
The physical therapy may stem from an injury or illness, or it may be part of preventive measures. The therapist develops a plan that is customized to the patient’s needs and goals and, in the process, also educates the patient. An injured runner, for example, has different conditioning and objectives than someone who has little exercise in their history.
Physical therapists are among the professionals licensed in New York State, following a graduate-level program in physical therapy; clinical experience; plus a written exam. With those achievements, licensed physical therapists can use the credentials “PT” or “P.T.” That’s not to be confused with other initials, such as CPT or certified physical trainers.
What or who brings you to a physical therapist?
In New York State, treatment can be provided without a referral by a licensed physical therapist who has practiced on a full-time basis for three years or more for 10 visits or 30 days, whichever comes first.
Let’s take that example of the injured runner who is antsy about being off the road. Rather than devising home remedies, the runner may visit a physical therapist to get some professional guidance in dealing with an injury, preventing injury in the future, and enhancing performance.
A physician, dentist, podiatrist or nurse practitioner might make a referral and have physical therapy be part of a treatment plan involving muscles, bones, nervous system, heart, and lungs, or other health conditions. For example, the physical therapist may be involved in building stamina and balance of a patient after a heart attack or mobility after a stroke. A person with arthritis could gain from physical therapy in managing pain and facilitating movement.
Persons with cancer frequently experience fatigue from the disease or as a side-effect of treatments. Sleep does not relieve this fatigue, which is defined as “a distressing, persistent, subjective sense of physical, emotional and/or cognitive tiredness or exhaustion related to cancer or cancer treatment that is not proportional to recent physical activity and interferes with usual functioning.” While physical therapy may not jump to mind as a means of relief from fatigue, it has been shown to improve quality of life and help ease treatment side-effects.
As noted, pain management often runs through a physical therapist’s work. In the effort to move away from the use of opioids to treat chronic pain, it’s not surprising that physical therapy is seen as an element to help manage that pain with much less risk. It is frequently part of a multi-dimensional plan along with stress/behavioral management and other therapies, such as acupuncture.

A PT visit
What can you expect from a visit? The therapist will assess your movement, posture, injury, or condition. Taking your health history also will provide important considerations in the preparation of the treatment plan. Depending on the condition at hand, that plan, created in collaboration with the patient and, as appropriate, with the patient’s physician(s), may include massage or therapeutic exercise; training in how to perform certain activities in daily life; means of managing pain; use of ultrasound or stimulation to tendons, ligaments, etc. In some circumstances, aquatic treatment may be part of the physical therapy, drawing on water’s buoyancy and means of creating low-impact resistance that helps to build strength, flexibility, and endurance. Where do physical therapists practice? In addition to private practice, physical therapists may provide care in home settings or skilled/residential facilities. They also may be on staff at hospitals or in sports complexes.

Serving children to older persons
Some therapists specialize in serving older or frail persons, helping them to safely perform daily activities and remain independent. They also are often involved in providing therapy for those who have had a joint replacement or fracture and in the aftermath of a fall and for fall prevention. The Centers for Disease Control reports that on an annual basis one-third of Americans age 65 and older experience falls. Conditions seen by pediatric physical therapists include neuromuscular problems, brain injuries, and developmental disabilities. Physical therapists who focus on women’s health may treat such concerns as pelvic pain, incontinence, pregnancy and post-partum pain, and breast cancer. Treatment for orthopedic issues frequently includes physical therapy. These problems could range from muscle strains, joint pain, rotator cuff injuries, osteoarthritis, to elbow problems encountered by golfers or tennis players, and more. Recovery from a concussion may involve physical therapy, such as training focusing on the inner ear, balance and visual symptoms, spine therapy, stretching, strengthening and progressive exercise. Learn more from the New York Physical Therapy Association at nypta.org and the American Physical Therapy at apta.org.

By Beth Krueger

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