When you need physical therapy
Whether you've experienced a serious accident, a stroke, spinal cord injury, bone fracture, carpal tunnel syndrome, back pain, arthritis or the loss of an arm or leg, you'll want to consult a physical therapist to determine what specific rehabilitation you'll need. These therapists employ a variety of methods to decrease pain, reduce stiffness and increase body motion and strength. These approaches may include applications of ice or heating pads, ultrasound and electrical stimulation or traditional, hands-on techniques.
Physical therapists may work in a medical center, clinic, physician's office, private practice, nursing home or school. Some PTs come right to the patient's home to offer care for those people who cannot travel. Specialists in this healthcare field treat children and adults of all ages. Sometimes they help a particular group of people, such as athletes or the elderly.
Types of physical therapy
Physical therapists are well-versed in all areas of body function. The first of these is the neuromuscular system, which deals with the body's nerves, such as the brain, spine and muscles. The nerves and muscle fibers meet at the neuromuscular junction, which facilitates the movement of information and energy from the nerves to the muscles.
Physical therapy encompasses different specialties. The orthopedic therapist focuses on the musculoskeletal system and on those patients who cannot regain proper movement after an illness or accident. Healthcare providers who specialize in neurological physiotherapy direct their efforts toward conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, brain injuries, cerebral palsy and Parkinson's disease.
Geriatric physical therapists focus on elderly patients, helping patients live a healthy life regardless of age. They may see many patients who have such conditions as osteoporosis, Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease. Pediatric physical therapists work closely with children and youth who suffer from injuries or illnesses that limit their movement.
When finding a qualified physical therapist to treat your specific condition, you should consult your general practitioner for a referral and check with your insurance provider to see whether it covers physical therapy. Also, check out member recommendations and reviews on Angie's List, where you can also find licensing information and any hospital affiliations.
Seeing a physical therapist
When a physical therapist first sees you, he or she will conduct a thorough evaluation of the injuries, including pain and loss of movement. The therapist will often consult with your physician for more background on your medical problems. The evaluation and assessment also involve learning as much as possible about the problem from your point of view.
Questions your PT might ask include, How did your injury occur? When did your problem first begin? Has your condition been getting worse? Is this the first time your issue has occurred? Have you see anyone else for care? Have you been prescribed any medication? What about your occupation, work responsibilities, outside interests and activities?
The physical therapist will also want to watch your physical condition when you try to move in different ways, such as walking, bending or reaching. The PT will try to determine how much movement is possible compared to before the injury or illness. These specialists use their hands to feel the musculoskeletal system and take notes on the body's moisture level, temperature and mobility, or lack thereof.
This healthcare provider may also test for muscle strength, range of movement and degree of sensation. Special examinations may be required for back, neurology and neck problems, such as nerve response tests and specialized muscle studies. Children and youth may require different tests.
Once physical therapists complete their report on the problem at hand, they will analyze the information and develop a treatment plan, often in consultation with your doctor.
Physical medicine and rehabilitation
Physical medicine deals with a person's physical function, by trying to understand the structure and function of their body. The goals of physical medicine include restoring the greatest level of function to a person who has become disabled. Somtimes that includes working at a rehabilitation facility.
Sports medicine physicians care for athletes and physically active people, diagnosing and treating common sports injuries including sprains, fractures, dislocated joints and knee injuries. Physical therapists who specialize in sports medicine typically focus on rehabilitation following an injury, evaluating a patient's strength, range of motion, balance, posture, flexibility, mechanics, coordination, endurance and overall mobility to develop a treatment plan.
LEARN MORE: Angie's List Guide to Sports Medicine
Prosthetics and orthotics
Patients with congenital birth defects such as a missing arm or leg, or people who have suffered a traumatic injury resulting in loss or extreme damage to a part of the body may be fitted with prosthetic devices to provide added mobility. While most prosthetic devices are found outside the body, others, such as artificial heart valves, play important roles inside the body. Other prosthetic devices include dentures, hearing aids and artificial eyes.
LEARN MORE: Angie's List Guide to Prosthetics and Orthotics
Rehabilitation — Occupational Therapy
Occupational therapy helps people who have suffered debilitating injuries or illnesses, such as a stroke. The goal of occupational therapy is to enable to patient to live as much of a normal life as possible.
Therapy and Respite Camps
Therapy and respite camp participants may suffer from cerebral palsy, eating disorders, learning disabilities, muscular dystrophy, speech impairments and cognitive disabilities. Caregivers can also benefit from the camps by taking a short break from their duties.
Learn More: Angie's List Guide to Therapy and Respite Camps