If you’re recovering from a surgery or injury, frequently experience muscle or joint pain, or have a chronic condition that causes discomfort, physical therapy may help improve your quality of life. Almost anyone can benefit from physical therapy, regardless of age, health condition or physical fitness.
Who is a candidate for physical therapy?
Physical therapy can improve your physical function, reduce pain and limit the effects of an injury or health event, such as a stroke, heart attack or long COVID.
Physical therapists treat a variety of conditions, including joint pain, back pain, arthritis, sports injuries, sprains, strains, vertigo and balance disorders, osteoporosis, pelvic floor disorders, scoliosis, spinal stenosis, post-operative pain and reduced function, Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, and Guillain-Barre syndrome. Physical therapists also provide cardiac and stroke rehabilitation.
Physical therapists specialize in preventive care as well, focusing on strength, coordination, balance and flexibility to reduce your risk of injuries, pain and medical complications.
Today, physical therapists must obtain a doctor of physical therapy degree, which requires an additional three years of study and clinical training after completing their bachelor’s degree.
What to expect during physical therapy
At your first evaluation, your physical therapist will perform a basic physical exam and functional tests. These tests will assess your strength, flexibility, range of motion, movement patterns and posture. Your therapist will also ask you about your daily activities, work environment, current physical concerns and physical therapy goals.
After the evaluation, your physical therapist will create a proposed treatment plan. This plan may include exercises, stretches, manual therapy, massage, heat or ice therapy, and electrical stimulation. You may see your physical therapist once a week or several times a week for a few months. Or they may ask you to do at-home exercises. Each plan varies based on an individual’s needs.
The benefits of physical therapy
Physical therapy can help you avoid surgery. While surgery is sometimes the best option for an injury or illness, physical therapy can help you avoid surgery by supporting the body’s natural healing process.
It can reduce your risk of injuries. Not only can physical therapy help you recover from an injury, but it can also help prevent injuries in the first place. Physical therapy can improve your strength, flexibility and balance, which reduces your risk of falls.
Physical therapy can help your recover faster. Physical therapy can speed up your recovery after an injury, surgery or major medical event, like a stroke or heart attack.
It can help you become more active. Regular physical activity is essential to good health and can reduce your risk of chronic health conditions like heart disease, diabetes and cancer. If you struggle to exercise because of pain or difficulty moving, physical therapy can help you slowly and safely increase your physical abilities.
Physical therapy can increase flexibility. Flexibility is crucial for preventing injury and reducing pain in the body. Your physical therapist can work with you to loosen tight muscles through stretches, massage, heat therapy or even breathing techniques.
It can improve your balance. Balance can decline with age and certain medical conditions. Physical therapy can help you avoid trips and falls, which could cause more serious injuries, like hip fractures.
Physical therapy can reduce pain. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend physical therapy as an option to manage pain without the use of opioids.
In North Carolina, you can make an appointment with a physical therapist without a referral. However, some insurance providers require a referral, so check your policy first. You can also ask your primary care provider or specialist (such as your orthopedic surgeon or neurologist) if physical therapy is right for you. To find a provider near you, visit pardeehospital.org.