In physical therapy, trained professionals evaluate and treat abnormal physical function related to, for example, an injury, disability, disease or condition.
According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), a physical therapist is a trained and licensed medical professional with experience in diagnosing physical abnormalities, restoring physical function and mobility, maintaining physical function, and promoting physical activity and proper function.
Licensed physical therapists can be found in a range of healthcare settings including outpatient offices, private practices, hospitals, rehab centers, nursing homes, home health, sports and fitness settings, schools, hospices, occupational settings, government agencies, and research centers.
A physical therapist helps take care of patients in all phases of healing, from initial diagnosis through the restorative and preventive stages of recovery. Physical therapy may be a standalone option, or it may support other treatments.
Some patients are referred to a physical therapist by their doctor, but other seek therapy themselves.
Whichever way a patient come to a physical therapist, they can expect to:
- Undergo a physical exam and evaluation, including a health history and certain testing procedures, including evaluation of posture, movement and flexibility, and of muscle and joint motion and performance
- Receive a clinical diagnosis, prognosis, plan of care and short and long term goals
- Receive physical therapy treatment and intervention based on the therapist’s evaluation and diagnosis
- Receive self-management recommendations
Patients often train with a physical therapist in exercises that they can do at home, to help them function more effectively.
Physical therapists can treat a wide variety of medical conditions, depending on their specialty.
Some conditions that can benefit from this type of treatment are:
- Cardiopulmonary conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis (CF) and post-myocardial infarction (MI)
- Hand therapy for conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome and trigger finger
- Musculoskeletal dysfunction such as back pain, rotator cuff tears, and temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ)
- Neurological conditions such as stroke, spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, vestibular dysfunction, and traumatic brain injuries
- Pediatric conditions such as developmental delays, cerebral palsy, and muscular dystrophy
- Sports-related injuries, such as concussion and tennis elbow
- Women’s health and pelvic floor dysfunction, such as urinary incontinence and lymphedema
Other cases that may benefit include burns, wound care, and diabetic ulcers.
Benefits of physical therapy
Depending on the reason for treatment, the benefits of physical therapy include:
- Pain management with reduced need for opioids
- Avoiding surgery
- Improved mobility and movement
- Recovery from injury or trauma
- Recovery from stroke or paralysis
- Fall prevention
- Improved balance
- Management of age-related medical problems
A sports therapist can help an athlete to maximize their performance through strengthening specific parts of the body and using muscles in new ways.
A healthcare provider or physical therapist can advise individuals about the benefits specific to their personal medical history and their need for treatment.
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