What is Physical Therapy?
People are referred to physical therapy or PT as the field is commonly called, for numerous diagnoses from various medical doctors. (PT’s must be licensed to practice in most states of the US.) PT’s will see diagnoses coming from orthopedics specialists, sports medicine doctors, neurologists, rheumatologists, endocrinologists, podiatrists, primary care MD’, physiatrists and gerontologists. Diagnoses ranging from low back and neck pain, shoulder/knee pain, repetitive strain injuries, ACL reconstructions, arthritis, running injuries, balance, gait disorders, neurological problems, post arthroscopy and much, much more.
In the orthopedics and sports medicine, the area of my practice, we see many patients both surgical and non-surgical. The physical therapist will initially do a comprehensive history and physical therapy examination. They will review the information gathered and put together a treatment plan/program. Patients are often given home exercises to enhance / speed their recovery.
Evaluation: The physical examination in orthopedics consist of many different clinical evaluative tools but mainly we will look at posture, gait, balance, range of motion of the affected joint, strength, special tests to assess specific muscle group and palpation.
PT’s are experts at movement evaluation, bio-mechanics and alignment. We spend a good portion of the initial consultation looking at how someone moves both statically and dynamically. The information gathered can give us many clues as to why the patient is having pain and dysfunction. We analyze these clues and are often able to zero in on the problem area.
Treatment: How is the physical therapist different from a massage therapist, chiropractor and personal trainer? Well, for one thing we are use many “tools” to treat our patients. One of the most important things we do is to educate our patients. Education allows our patients to fully understand what is going on and why they have pain. Now they can make the changes in their daily routine so that the problem does not get exacerbated. The goal is that they will not repeat postures or movements that are causing their pain or dysfunction.
Physical Therapists are skilled in palpation and manual skills. PT’s are often able to assess swelling, loss of muscle length and flexibility, poor muscle tone and many other soft tissue problems by using our hands. Physical therapists will incorporate numerous manual therapies – soft tissue mobilization, joint mobilization, massage and release techniques. The “hands-on” techniques we perform can loosen a tight muscle, increase circulation and mobility of a joint.
Providing exercise and stretching programs are an integral part of (what we do/our patients’ recovery.) Oftentimes patients are not exercising or training correctly and need a PT’s guidance. As you know exercises can strengthen muscles but oftentimes people do not perform a balanced strengthening program and this can lead to injury and pain. Usually on the first visit, the PT will provide a home program.
Other tools we employ are taping (ie: Kinesiotape,McConnell tape) gait and running evaluation using video analysis software, special equipment such as an ultrasound and laser unit, and one of the newer pieces of equipment you may see in a PT practice is an AlterG treadmill or anti-gravity treadmill.
Physical therapists primary goal is to treat their patients using non-evasive techniques and to get them back to full function in their daily life and sport.