Why Physical Therapy?
We all cherish our ability to move freely and without pain. When that ability is challenged, physical therapy can help get you moving again.
Movement. The ability to be independent. The capability to do what we want ...
But what happens when the body no longer wants to cooperate with the mind due to illness, injury, arthritis or muscle stiffness? Sometimes we choose to wait it out, thinking that over time it may get better.
But that could be a mistake.
Physical therapy promotes mobility
If you have had surgery or suffered injury recently, movement may be difficult and painful due to scar tissue. Scar tissue can develop enough to permanently impede movement in as little as 12 to 18 weeks.
While scarring is a normal part of healing, it can also cause movement and flexibility to be lost. “Seeking care early is extremely important,” said Dennis Kaster, director of rehabilitation at Ministry Saint Michael’s Hospital in Stevens Point.
“Scar tissue can set up like concrete in about 12 weeks. It is imperative to get physical therapy as soon as possible so that range of motion and flexibility can be maintained and improved before the scar tissue fully heals in a contracted state.”
A physical therapist can help minimize the development of scar tissue through exercises that stretch and strengthen the surrounding muscles, tendons and ligaments.
Seeking physical therapy right away often results in better outcomes: more movement, more freedom from pain and more independence.
It may be an alternative to surgery
In some situations, surgery is the only viable option, but in other cases physical therapy may bring pain relief. If you are currently in pain, ask your health care provider or a physical therapist if a physical therapy program would help.
A physical therapist can show you how to relieve back pain with core muscle exercises to provide strength and flexibility.
Your back is, after all, a series of small connections. If one vertebra is being pulled or twisted, strengthening the area around it improves support and may reduce pain.
A solution for sore joints
If you experience joint pain, strengthening the muscles around the joint will provide support, relieve pain and minimize the risk of further injury.
Physical Therapy can help COPD
According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), physical therapy can help people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) breathe a little easier. After conducting an evaluation that includes health and environmental history, lung function and strength tests and capacity tests, a program can be developed by a therapist to increase lung and physical function.
Specific physical therapy for COPD may focus on the muscles which help a person breath in, which have been shown to decrease shortness of breath and increase exercise capacity. People experiencing COPD may also have poor balance and be at risk for falling. Physical therapy can also help with balance.
Why do I need a physical therapist?
A physical therapist understands how the muscles, bones, ligaments and tendons work together to create motion.
With this knowledge and training, they can determine the best exercises to relieve pain or discomfort of physical movement and enhance function to overcome movement disabilities without causing more damage and pain.
Learn more about how physical therapy helped Jordan and Jared, twins who have overcome their physical limitations with the help of physical therapy.
Physical therapy helps older people stay independent longer
According to a study conducted by from Yale University School of Medicine*, a home-based physical therapy program is beneficial for frail, elderly people. Research showed that physical therapy which focuses on improving balance, increasing muscle strength, and mobility can slow and in some cases avert physical decline in older people.
The study involved 188 people in a physically frail condition, over age 75 who lived at home. Half of the seniors received 6 months of physical therapy; the others went through an educational program. Researchers compared the improvements and declines between the two groups after 3 months, 7 months and 12 months.
Researchers found that participants with moderate frailty in the physical therapy group had less decline in their ability to perform simple life-functions such as walking, bathing, dressing, moving from a chair, using the toilet, eating and grooming than the educational group.
*SOURCE: The New England Journal of Medicine, 2002;347:1068-1073
Physical therapy can prevent falls
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports the leading cause of injury in people over the age of 65 is falling – up to 33% in that age group fall every year. Since these falls often result in hip fractures, it makes this condition critical. Many people who break hips after falling stay in the hospital for a week or more. An estimated 20 percent die within a year of the fall; and the other 80 percent rarely are able to regain their pre-fall, independence.
Conditions Helped by Therapy
Physical therapy can help dementia and Alzheimer’s patients maintain function, which can help them prevent falls. By working with the Alzheimer patient to practice types of movement they remember, like dancing, we can help the patient maintain strength and flexibility.
Arthritis pain may be relieved by many types of physical therapy – depending on the location and severity of the condition. Physical therapy to increase strength, range of motion, balance, and coordination may include aquatic, hot packs, electrical stimulation, and ice.
People suffering from cancer may find pain relief through physical therapy. Targeted exercises after surgery can reduce swelling and improve range of motion to help people maintain functionality.
Incontinence is not often thought about when a person thinks about physical therapy, yet even this condition can be helped. The physical therapist works with the patient to help him or her identify, control and strengthen the muscles control urine flow.
Studies also show that weight-bearing exercise can help also prevent osteoporosis in later years. Falls caused by osteoporosis may be minimized through physical therapy exercised designed to strengthen poster.
Physical therapy may prevent the severe symptoms of stage 4 Parkinson’s when started early enough. Exercises that keep the Parkinson's patient's core flexible may delay the “robotic" movements typical of Parkinson’s disease
The symptoms of stroke can be improved through a program designed to stimulate and retrain the brain and encourage use of the weak or paralyzed limb. Pain may be treated using electrical stimulation.
Unique diagnosis and treatment
Knowing where the pain or limitation is located helps the physical therapist determine which joints, muscles and ligaments are involved. This helps determine if muscle strengthening or stretching exercises would be most beneficial.
Each series of exercises is developed to address the unique situation and goals of the patient. Physical therapy can help people regain mobility, become as pain-free as possible, and function to their greatest potential.
“People who seek physical therapy right away tend to regain more movement and independence than people who wait.”
A physical therapist may use massage, muscle and joint mobilization, exercise machines, ice, heat, ultrasound, and / or electrical stimulation to decrease pain and swelling, increase muscle suppleness and increase motion.
“Physical therapy not only looks at skeletal alignment, but also muscle strength, flexibility and the patient’s environment,” said Kaster. “We look at the patient holistically and then work to create the treatment plan that will get them back to the daily activities of life.”
“Physical therapy has a good cure rate,” said Kaster. “Once a person has gone through physical therapy and has done the exercises and gained the range of motion, flexibility or strength he or she is pleased with, the patient is finished. Our goal is to treat the person so he or she is able to live life as pain free and as independently as possible.”
Personal motivation is key
Physical therapy works best if the patient is committed and takes personal responsibility for the outcome. Depending on the situation, a person may go to physical therapy one to three times a week. Ultimately, it is the patient’s responsibility to follow the directions and continue the exercises. They will get back what they invest in physical therapy.
A physical therapist can assess your environment
Through conversation, pictures and onsite visits, physical therapists can often determine if pain or loss of motion is caused by ergonomics. For instance, a person who wears bifocals while working at a computer may tilt his or her head unnaturally, causing neck pain. The recommendation would be to try reading glasses. Therapists can suggest exercises and environmental modifications to minimize the cause of muscle strain and injury.
In an effort to help patients reduce health care costs, Ministry Health Care has implemented a pilot program, currently available in Stanley and Stevens Point, that allows patients to contact a physical therapist without a physicians’ referral.
Please check with your insurance carrier to see if non-referred services are covered. To learn more about physical therapy, visit ministryhealth.org.
If your low-back pain has lasted longer than 2 weeks or if recurs frequently, you may want to consider physical therapy and back pain exercises to decrease back pain, The physical therapist can also develop a maintenance program to help strengthen the back and prevent further recurrences.
Keeping your back healthy
We’ve got your back … but it’s up to you to keep it as healthy as possible.
- Always be sure to warm up before strenuous activity.
- Don’t lift heavy objects incorrectly; always lift by bending your knees, not your back. Lifting incorrectly can cause back injury.
- Stand with your weight balanced on both feet.
- Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes.
- Make sure the height of your work surface fits your body.
- Sit in a chair with good lumbar support and proper position. Keep your shoulders back. Switch sitting positions often. Get up occasionally to relieve tension. If you sit for a long time, place a low stool under your feet.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Eat a diet rich in calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D.
- Quit smoking.
The Cat Stretch
Stretches for lower back pain are extremely effective in tackling debilitating discomfort in the lumbar section. Be extremely careful when incorporating these exercises in your workout routine – the concept of “no pain, no gain” does not hold true when it comes to lower back stretches.
Among the simplest stretches for lower back pain, this exercise entails gently arching the spine which enhances flexibility and stimulates the spinal muscles. On your hands and knees, raise your head and allow your belly to sink downwards with your back arching; feel a nice stretch before getting out of this position. Now, do the stretch in the opposite direction by dropping your head and raising your spine to form an upward arch. Try to rest your chin against your chest. Repeat.
In addition to illness or injury, people can also benefit from physical therapy for:
- Recurrent neck or back pain
- Joint pain / arthritis
- Muscular strains
- Urinary incontinence
- Bladder issues
- Plantar fasciitis or heel pain
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Tennis elbow
- Balance problems
- Stroke recovery
- Fitness and wellness education
- Pain management
“Physical therapy can often cure the problem rather than just treat the symptoms.”