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.
What to expectPhysical therapy can help people of all ages with a range of conditions.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:
Common conditionsPhysical therapists can treat a wide variety of medical conditions, depending on their specialty.
Some conditions that can benefit from this type of treatment are:
Benefits of physical therapyDepending on the reason for treatment, the benefits of physical therapy include:
A healthcare provider or physical therapist can advise individuals about the benefits specific to their personal medical history and their need for treatment.
TypesPhysical therapy can help a patient regain movement or strength after an injury or illness.As with any medical practice, a variety of therapies can be applied to treat a range of conditions.
Orthopedic physical therapy treats musculoskeletal injuries, involving the muscles, bones, ligaments, fascias, and tendons. It is suitable for medical conditions such as fractures, sprains, tendonitis, bursitis, chronic medical problems, and rehabilitation or recovery from orthopedic surgery. Patients may undergo treatment with joint mobilizations, manual therapy, strength training, mobility training, and other modalities.
Geriatric physical therapy can help older patients who develop conditions that affect their mobility and physical function, including arthritis, osteoporosis, Alzheimer's disease, hip and joint replacement, balance disorders, and incontinence. This type of intervention aims to restore mobility, reduce pain and increase physical fitness levels.
Neurological physical therapy can help people with neurological disorders and conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, brain injury, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injury, and stroke. Treatment may aim to increase limb responsiveness, treat paralysis, and reverse increase muscles strength by reducing muscle atrophy.
Cardiovascular and pulmonary rehabilitation can benefit people affected by some cardiopulmonary conditions and surgical procedures. Treatment can increase physical endurance and stamina.
Pediatric physical therapy aims to diagnose, treat, and manage conditions that affect infants, children, and adolescents, including developmental delays, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, torticollis and other conditions that impact the musculoskeletal system.
Wound care therapy can help to ensure that a healing wound is receiving adequate oxygen and blood by way of improved circulation. Physical therapy may include the use of manual therapies, electric stimulation, compression therapy and wound care.
Vestibular therapy aims to treat balance problems that can result from inner ear conditions. Vestibular physical therapy involves a number of exercises and manual techniques that can help patients regain their normal balance and coordination.
Decongestive therapy can help to drain accumulated fluid in patients with lymphedema and other conditions that involve fluid accumulation.
Pelvic floor rehabilitation can help treat urinary or fecal incontinence, urinary urgency and pelvic pain in men and women as a result of injuries or surgery, or because of certain conditions.
Apart from physical manipulation, physical therapy treatment may involve:
By Lori Smith BSN MSN CRNP
Reviewed by Gregory Minnis, DPT
Kenneth Mauck, MPT, MS , Manual Therapy Expert