From sports-related injury and congenital disabilities to age-related conditions, aches, and pains, the benefits of Physical Therapy are abundant. Because there are many indications and treatments within the field, most therapists have a practice rooted in a niche focus.
Modern Physical Therapy (PT) originated in Europe in the 19th Century and is rooted in massage and manual muscle manipulation. The practice made its way to the United States to help with the treatment of Polio. Patients were able to strengthen and use what was left of their declining musculature to accomplish functional mobility. With the success of the treatments, therapists were then trained to work with the military. Soldiers returning from WWI with battle wounds were rehabilitated. While their treated conditions were a result of fighting in the war (i.e., amputated limbs, spinal cord injuries, and head injuries), Physical Therapy began to find more common applications.
The United Nations stated that one-sixth of the global population suffers from neurological disorders. The World Health Organization (WHO) has determined that one in two adult Americans live with a musculoskeletal condition. That means that more than half of our adult population could potentially benefit from Physical Therapy!
What is Physical Therapy?
Physical Therapy (AKA Physiotherapy) is a healthcare treatment that helps patients maintain, improve, or increase functional mobility. Physical Therapists utilize a variety of techniques, instruments, and exercises to treat illnesses or injuries that prevent their patients from achieving a full range of motion or performing physical functions.
Types of Physical Therapy
Everyone is susceptible to enduring an injury, and most of us will lose at least some of our mobility as we age. Many people are born with or develop illnesses that affect their movement. All these factors contribute to the vastness and diversity within the field of PT. To better understand the many different types of treatments and exercises therein, the field can be broken down into five distinct areas of practice.
1. Cardiopulmonary Physical Therapy:
Anyone who suffers from heart disease, heart attacks, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pulmonary fibrosis, or asthma can benefit from cardiopulmonary physical therapy. Many stress- and anxiety-related mental disorders and trauma affect the respiratory system as well. Given the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) anticipates that these conditions are on the rise. Anyone suffering from hypo or hyperventilation can also benefit from cardiopulmonary therapy treatments. There is a range of exercises used by professionals in the field, many of which focus on expanding the patient’s lung capacity and endurance.
2. Geriatric Physical Therapy:
As we age, we become more vulnerable to conditions that affect our functional mobility. While not exclusive to the elderly, issues such as joint replacements, balance disorders, and arthritis are more common among the senior demographic. According to the CDC, an adult (age 65 and older) falls every second of every day. Specialized Geriatric PT can play an integral role in treating these conditions, restoring a patient’s ability to balance, and in providing our elderly population with the tools and treatments needed to increase mobility and reduce pain.
3. Neurological Physical Therapy:
Therapists in this niche specialize in treating patients who experience movement limitations due to injury or disease of the nervous system. Among the many indications commonly treated in this area of practice are Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Stroke, and brain or spinal cord injuries. Patients will often be given Physical Therapy exercises to improve arm, leg, and foot mobility.
4. Orthopedic Physical Therapy:
When we first hear the term, “Physical Therapy,” we most likely picture athletes who are rehabilitating after suffering from sports-related injuries. This widespread perception of the field falls under the category of Orthopedic PT. Professionals who specialize in this use various techniques such as endurance, resistance, and strength training, joint mobilization, and stretching to heal, preserve, and protect the musculoskeletal system.
5. Pediatric Physical Therapy:
This area of practice is focused around children (typically anyone under the age of 18.) Disabilities are often (and ideally) diagnosed in the early and developmental stages of childhood. The severity level can range from a child who misses or is delayed in achieving developmental milestones outlined by the World Health Organization, or one who suffers from a genetic disorder (such as Cerebral Palsy). Pediatric Physical Therapists also treat children who suffer from acute injuries, muscle diseases, and head trauma.
Benefits of Physical Therapy
The long list of PT benefits would be difficult to summarize in just a few paragraphs. In an ever-developing field that serves so many different parts of the population, the benefits are exceedingly abundant. Below are some of the most significant advantages, though the list is not exhaustive.
1. An Effective Alternative to Higher-Risk Options. Because Physical Therapy is an efficient way to manage or eliminate pain, it can potentially help a patient avoid surgery. Even if surgery is needed, routine treatments before an operation can strengthen the patient and reduce post-op recovery time, often lowering the overall cost of the procedure. In other cases, patients are prescribed addictive medications, such as opiates. Since PT can give a patient the necessary tools and exercises to manage and reduce pain, they may be prescribed a lower dose of medication or none at all. Many muscle groups, such as the lower back, respond very well to non-invasive treatments, rendering Physical Therapy exercises very effective.
2. Helps to Restore Functional Mobility. Physical Therapy exercises can help patients regain their full range of motion through techniques focused on stretching and strengthening their muscles. Whether injuries are related to sports, trauma, or age, PT greatly benefits the outcome of a movement-limiting injury. With one-on-one care and attention, a therapist can assess a patient and prescribe a customized plan to strengthen the necessary muscle groups and re-align or stabilize the skeletal and postural systems. With these processes combined, patients are often able to achieve restored functional mobility.
3. Helps in the Management of a Wide Variety of Medical Indications. Whether due to old age, congenital disabilities, or disease, Physical Therapy is used to treat an expansive range of conditions. Beyond those discussed earlier, many physical therapists are also qualified to treat Vertigo, concussions, urinary incontinence, and Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction (TMJ). In many cases, PT is preventative of a medical condition getting worse, becoming intolerable, or completely debilitating a patient.
More often than not, Physical Therapy involves a very personalized care plan. Due to the vastness of the field, there are therapists who specialize in specific areas of focus. It may take a bit of research to find the right match, but ultimately it will be worth it to find a professional who can customize a plan that meets your particular needs. The benefits of the practice can be preventative, preservative, or restorative.