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The American Physical Therapy Association
(APTA) boasts more than 95,000 members in the United States alone. Although many of those members are not licensed physical therapists, a majority of them are chiropractors, podiatrists, rheumatologists, neurologists and other respected medical professionals who take an active interest in their client’s overall wellbeing.
For patients who willingly participate in it, well-managed physical therapy has countless benefits, including:(APTA) boasts more than 95,000 members in the United States alone. Although many of those members are not licensed physical therapists, a majority of them are chiropractors, podiatrists, rheumatologists, neurologists and other respected medical professionals who take an active interest in their client’s overall wellbeing.
- Increased range of motion
- Decreased pain
- Enhanced pain tolerance
- Reduced swelling
- Improved muscle tone
- Revitalized mental health
Despite the increased availability, however, it can be difficult for a patient to feel confident when choosing a physical therapist. To make matters seem more complicated than they need to be, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported more than 200,000 physical therapists working on American soil as of 2016, with a steep increase of about 28% since then.
What Is A Physical Therapist?
According to the World Confederation for Physical Therapy, a physical therapist goes by many names: physiotherapist, kinesiologist, and chiropractors just to name a few. Regardless of the title, physical therapists provide a variety of essential services. Typically, their carefully cultivated techniques help patients restore, develop, or maintain function and mobility in any part of the body.
Patients seek help from physical therapists for numerous reasons, including but certainly not limited to the following:
- Injury prevention
- Physical promotion
- Environmental conditions
- Professional goals
In short, physical therapists work diligently to help patients improve the quality of their life, whether that be simply regaining the ability to walk or competing in a marathon. It’s important to consider your needs and expectations before scheduling an appointment with a physical therapist.
What to Expect During Routine Physical Therapy
Although every patient is unique and all physical therapists use different methods, the average PT session involves a series of required activities and exercises. Especially if the therapist is legitimately qualified and professional, you can expect the following things to take place during most routine physical therapy appointments:
- A comprehensive examination to analyze the patient’s physical limitations and therapeutic requirements
- An evaluation of data from the initial analysis to make clinical decisions regarding the patient in question
- Development a diagnosis and prognosis
- Formulation of an effective treatment or intervention plan
- A consultation about any potentially helpful referrals to outside healthcare professionals
- Implementation of the aforementioned treatment plan
- Gather data during each session to determine the expected outcome of treatments
- Recommendations regarding self-care
If you experience anything that diverges from what’s listed above, be sure to communicate your concern with the therapist as soon as possible. It may be that you’re simply participating in innovative treatments. However, too many deviations should raise red flags.
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How Does Physical Therapy Work?
Physical therapy is effective at helping patients in numerous ways, and the reasons for that are quite clear according to the experts. However, patients are always urged to consider their current physical fitness level and general health when formulating a treatment plan. Although physical therapists are specially trained to coax the body into regaining range of motion, strength or flexibility, they are not miracle workers.
Physical therapy works best when a patient is ready for a challenge. Licensed therapists can teach various exercises and stretches or introduce patients to specialized equipment to use independently but they cannot force patients to comply. Since effective physical therapy typically requires several weeks, individual self-care is an important part of the process and should never be underestimated.
During most therapeutic sessions, therapists will work with the patient to achieve pre-set goals. Throughout the process, but depending on the physical requirements of the patient, the following treatment techniques will likely be used:
Muscles and joints can become stiff and tight, especially after long periods of inactivity. Physical therapists assist patients with deep stretches to loosen muscles and tendons and improve overall functionality.
By improving the strength of the muscles in the body, patients thereby enjoy enhanced balance and increased range of motion. Physical therapists use graduated weights to boost the patient’s forte as much as possible.
The strength of the body’s core is perhaps the most important part of physical fitness. Therapists work on stability by guiding patients during various workouts that target the abdominal and thoracic muscles.
Application of Ice or Heat
Introducing heat and/or cold to muscles and joints can decrease pain, increase range of motion, and promote better blood flow throughout the body. Physical therapists use heat and/or ice treatments at the beginning or end of most sessions, especially with patients who have sustained an injury.
Acupressure or Chiropractic Massage
Targeted massage, also known as chiropractic massage or acupressure, is perhaps the most enjoyable part of most physical therapy sessions. Experts providing chiropractic massage use state-of-the-art procedures to relieve pain, make necessary adjustments to the musculoskeletal system and boost circulation.
Electrical Stimulation (E-Stim)
Used primarily as a tool for physical therapists, e-stim treatments send waves of dense electrical currents to certain parts of the body. Physical therapists will subject various muscles or nerves to controlled stimulation for the purposes to encouraging movement, sensation and blood flow.
NOTE: In some cases, a physical therapist may utilize ultrasounds or x-rays to determine the extent of an injury or monitor improvements. Ultrasounds may also be used to stimulate blood flow post-therapy.
When Is Physical Therapy Better than Medication?
Properly monitored and responsibly used prescription medication has its merits. However, physical therapy may be a better option for some people. Pharmaceuticals are often laden with potentially harmful chemicals and can present dangerous side effects. On the contrary, physical therapy tends to lean toward a more natural, holistic approach to healthcare.
Therefore, physical therapy may be better than medication when patients are experiencing adverse side effects. However, one should err on the side of caution and consult with a doctor before abruptly stopping any medicinal regimen. Often, routine physical therapy can serve as supplemental rehabilitation when used alongside the proper medication.
Who Can Benefit from Physical Therapy?
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Fortunately, physical therapy is safe, effective and appropriate for people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds. In fact, there’s an entire PT specialization that focused exclusively on children
and another for the elderly. Expect the treatment options to be tailored around each patient’s unique needs and characteristics.
Dr. Brent Wells, D.C. is graduate of the University of Nevada and Western States Chiropractic College in Portland, Oregon. As the founder of Better Health Chiropractic in Wasilla, Dr. Wells is highly respected in his field as one of the premier chiropractors in Alaska. He specializes in rehabilitative therapies which include acupressure, chiropractic massage, adjustments and natural pain relief at his multi-disciplinary clinic.
He enthusiastically continues his education with ongoing research on spinal conditions, neurology, physical therapy, biomechanics, and trauma. As an active member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians, Dr. Wells also supports numerous studies and volunteers at the Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Foundation.
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