What is Physical Therapy?
Physical therapy is a medical field concerned with rehabilitating the body to its optimal performance level, and improving quality of life. A physical therapist customizes treatments, exercises, and stretches that help a patient carry out the daily functions of their lifestyle more comfortably through a series of sessions that build upon each other. By increasing flexibility, strengthening targeted areas of the body, and increasing blood flow, physical therapy aids patients in achieving a number of goals like:
- Recovering from surgery
- Recovering from injury
- Improving athletic performance
- Targeting weak areas to prevent injury
- Managing pain
Physical therapy is the most conservative, natural treatment of musculoskeletal or neuromuscular conditions and injuries. A physical therapist guides a patient through programs that help them meet their physical function goals.
Therapists will help increase flexibility and balance, correct posture and alignment, and strengthen and massage soft tissues that cause pain. A physical therapist may use a number of tools, such as a treadmill, foam roller, weights, etc., that aid in stretching and strengthening programs. This conditioning helps a range of different individuals, from rehabilitating an elderly patient so they may walk more easily or enabling a tennis player to fully recover range of motion in their elbow.
Treatments and exercises will become increasingly more intense or challenging to ease the body into reaching its full potential. A physical therapist is also able to correct a patient’s posture and teach how to perform certain activities in order to prevent pain or future injury.
Physical therapy encompasses many different methods of treatment, including:
During manual therapy a physical therapist uses his or her hands to treat a patient rather than guiding them through activities that they would perform on their own. Manual therapy includes methods of treatment like:
Massage/Myofascial Release – A physical therapist applies pressure to soft tissues, especially muscles, in order to release tension and knots that can cause pain. This increases circulation and helps relax the tissues, increasing range of motion, reducing inflammation, and relieving pressure on surrounding nerves.
Mobilization — A physical therapist will manually stretch and move parts of the body without the patient putting forth an effort. Slow movements of specific limbs help realign bones and joints. While being gradually forced back into proper position, tissues surrounding a joint will relax, and increase flexibility and decrease pain in the region.
Manipulation — A physical therapist will apply force to a joint that may vary in intensity and time periods. This will gradually force joints into position and decrease pain in the area.
A physical therapist may use modalities to complement a routine or make it easier to perform. These include:
Ice — Icing an area will restrict blood vessels, reducing inflammation and numbing an area to pain. This may allow a patient to better perform a following physical therapy routine.
Moist Heat — Heat is often used when treating soft tissues that are tight or spasming, forcing them to relax. Reduced tension allows tissues to be more receptive to movement and massage.
Ultrasound — Ultrasound uses waves to transmit heat to tissues deep in the body, making them more easily manipulated. This is especially helpful in treating connective tissue damage, since it is far beneath the skin.
TENS — Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation is a method of pain control that sends electrical currents to muscles or joints. Small wires attach to the skin, stimulating nerves to disrupt pain signals to the brain. This is most often used on those with conditions that cause chronic pain like arthritis or back and neck pain.
Electrical Stimulation — ESTIM is a type of electrical stimulation that forces muscles to contract. This increases blood flow to the targeted area which reduces swelling and promotes healing. It is usually used on patients recovering from injury like sprains or fractures.
Much of the pain that patients experience in their spine is due to narrowing of the space between vertebrae. This causes wear on the bones, disc damage, nerve root compression, and other painful consequences. A physical therapist performs traction to increase space between vertebrae, relieving these symptoms and preventing further issues in these spaces.
Manual — A physical therapist will manually apply pressure to certain areas of the spine for short periods of time to push vertebrae apart. When done multiple times, the vertebrae will gradually conform to the alignment.
Mechanical — A system of weights will push down on or pull on the spine and hold it in that position for long periods of time, encouraging the spine to stay in that position.
Exercises encompass a wide range of activities that a physical therapist guides a patient through to target certain areas of the body. They may help strengthen particular muscles or stretch certain tissues. It is the job of the physical therapist to select certain exercises that focus on strengthening or stretching the required tissues or joints to meet specific patient goals. It is the most effective way of working out aches and pains and preventing them from occurring again.
Myofascial decompression (MFD), more commonly referred to as cupping, is a traditional Chinese therapy that has been adapted to the field of Sports Medicine. Our therapists use cupping to promote healing and blood flow to the injured area. Cupping can eliminate pain, mechanical deficiencies caused by restricted soft tissue, treating myofascial strains and soft tissue restrictions unrelated to injury.