10 Ways Physical Therapy Can Help
You have chronic back pain. You think medication will help, but your doctor recommends physical therapy. What is it, and can it really help you? Yes, says physical therapist Jesse Schimmer of Lehigh Valley Health Network. “It’s a high-benefit, low-risk solution to diagnose and treat many different conditions.”
Physical therapy helps people of all ages who have medical conditions, illnesses or injuries that limit their regular ability to move. “It helps patients return to their prior level of physical functioning,”Schimmer says.
Primary care doctors often refer patients to physical therapy at the first sign of a problem. “The most conservative option is best,” says health network family medicine physician Madalyn Schaefgen, MD “I’ve seen firsthand how physical therapy can help patients get stronger and more flexible. And once patients see the benefits, they become believers.” While some reasons for physical therapy may seem physical therapy may seem obvious, others may surprise you.
Here are 10 ways physical therapy may benefit you:
- Reduce or eliminate pain - “Hands-on therapy or treatments such as ultrasound and electrical stimulation can help relieve pain and restore muscle and joint function to reduce low back pain,” Schimmer says. Such therapies also can prevent pain from returning.
- Avoid surgery - If physical therapy helps you eliminate pain or heal from an injury, surgery may not be needed. And even if surgery is required, you may benefit from pre-surgery physical therapy. “It will allow you to recover from surgery faster because you’re stronger prior to it,” Schaefgen says.
- Improve your mobility - If you’re having trouble standing, walking or moving - no matter your age - physical therapy can help. Stretching and strengthening exercises help restore your ability to move. “If needed, we also help fit people for devices like wheelchairs, walkers and canes,” Schimmer says.
- Recover from a stroke - It’s common to lose some degree of function and movement after stroke. Physical therapy helps strengthen weakened parts of the body and improve gait and balance.
- Recover from or prevent a sports injury - Physical therapists understand how different sports can increase your risk for specific types of injuries (such as stress fractures for distance runners). They can design appropriate recovery or prevention exercise programs for you.
- Improve your balance and prevent falls - When you begin physical therapy, you will get screened for fall risk. If you’re at high risk for falls, therapists will provide exercises that mimic real-life situations. Therapists also help you with exercises to improve coordination.
- Manage diabetes and vascular conditions - As part of an overall diabetes management plan, exercise can help effectively control blood sugar. “We can create an individual plan with the right mix of aerobic and strengthening exercises,” Schimmer says.
- Manage age-related issues - As you age, you may develop arthritis or osteoporosis or need a joint replacement. “Physical therapy can effectively keep older patients more mobile and fit them with the appropriate walking device if needed,” Schaefgen says.
- Manage heart and lung disease - While most patients will complete cardiac rehabilitation after a heart attack or procedure, you also may receive physical therapy if your daily functioning is affected.
- Help your child manage a medical condition, injury or movement problem - Physical therapy can help children with everything from improving fine motor skills to caring for neurological issues such as cerebral palsy to recovering from surgery.