Is Physical Therapy Your Best Treatment Option?

When you need something fixed, you need the right person for the job. That's never more important than when it's your body that needs fixing. When the problem is related to movement, muscles, joints, pain and the musculoskeletal system, the right person might be a physical therapist.

What Is Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy is a type of healthcare provided by highly trained professionals (physical therapists, or PTs) who diagnose and treat patients of all ages, from newborn to old age. They take care of medical problems or health conditions, illnesses and injuries that impact their patients' ability to move or perform normal activities. Their individualized treatment plans promote movement, reduce pain, restore function and prevent disability. PTs also work with healthy, active adults (like athletes) to prevent injury. 

The National Pain Foundation says physical therapy is an integral part of multidisciplinary pain management. Physical therapy might include therapeutic massage, mobilization and physical movement, exercises, patient education, water therapy, ultrasound, and heat and ice to help improve function, increase flexibility and strength, and decrease pain. PTs facilitate healing by improving muscle flexibility and strength, joint mobility, overall movement and function. They also evaluate and improve how patients perform daily activities, for example, how they sit, stand, bend or work.  

What Conditions Are Treated By Physical Therapy?

Studies suggest PT works as well as medication or surgery for treating back pain. It can be effective for eliminating headaches, neck pain, sports injuries, complex regional pain syndrome, arthritis and is essential for recovery from certain types of surgery, for example knee or hip replacement surgeries.

PT is also great for speeding recovery from overuse injuries like tendonitis and sprains. 

Athletes check in with PTs regularly to make sure their muscles are working together properly. For example, many runners, soccer players and skiers are prone to knee injuries when one set of muscles becomes overdeveloped. These over-dominant muscles can pull other muscles, ligaments, bones and connective tissue out of alignment, cause injury and pain. PTs develop exercise plans that balance muscle development to avoid injury.

Physical therapy isn't as successful for treating pain caused by cancer and other serious diseases, but can help reduce stress and pain caused by immobility, surgery and lack of exercise. 

It's important to see your physician whenever you experience new episodes of pain or injuries. If your condition is chronic or familiar to you, however, you might be able to go straight to your physical therapist. Physical therapy is covered by most insurance plans.  A doctor's referral is required in some states, but not in others. Call your physician and/or insurance company to find out if you're covered for direct PT care without a referral.