For those suffering in the wake of an accident or who have been bedridden with an illness, ongoing pain and diminished functionality may prompt a physician to recommend physical therapy, or PT. The goal of PT is to help ease pain, improve mobility and guide a patient back to their previous ability to function.
In addition to rehabilitation, physical therapists also work with patients on injury prevention and ongoing wellness. Treatment consists of exercises and stretches to achieve these goals.
What Types of Exercises Does a Physical Therapist Use?
Physical therapists use a wide variety of exercises and stretching techniques to assist patients. Some of the most common ones include:
- Range of motion exercises. These exercises are intended to improve the movement of a specific joint. They can also help decrease pain while improving strength and balance. Range of motion exercises are used on the neck, shoulders, elbows, arms, wrists, hands, fingers, hips, knees, ankles, and feet.
- Muscle strengthening exercises. To slow down the rate of bone and muscle loss that occurs as people age, a physical therapist may have a patient perform muscle strengthening exercises. The patient performs these exercises with weights or stretch bands, increasing the weight or resistance over time to build strength and improve endurance.
- Coordination and balance exercises. Problems with coordination and balance can result from stroke, brain injury, or as a result of aging. These types of exercises are typically performed using parallel bars for support until the patient is competent enough to do them unassisted.
- Ambulation (walking) exercises. Patients who need to increase muscle strength or improve range of motion will perform ambulation exercises. Before starting, the patient must be able to balance while standing. Beginning with parallel bars for support, the patient will eventually move on to other devices such as walkers or canes as they improve.
- General conditioning exercises. The goal of general conditioning is to improve cardiovascular fitness, increase flexibility and improve muscle strength. General conditioning exercises are a combination of range of motion, muscle strengthening, and ambulation exercises.
Do I Need a Physical Therapist?
Even if they haven’t had an injury, accident, or illness, most people could benefit from working with a physical therapist. Because they are movement experts, they not only help you alleviate pain and recover flexibility, they can also teach you how to prevent injury.
Common conditions that physical therapists treat include:
- Neck and back pain
- Issues with balance or mobility
- Pre- and post-surgery conditioning
- Common sprains and strains
- Problems in the knees, ankles, and feet
- Problems in the arms, shoulders, hands, and wrists
- Sports-related injuries
Physical therapists work in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and some even make house calls.
What To Expect When Undergoing Physical Therapy
Your first appointment with a physical therapist will include an evaluation to assess your issues and functional tests to measure your strength and range of motion. The therapist will then offer a diagnosis and develop a treatment plan for you.
After your first session, the physical therapist will guide you through exercises, stretches, treatments, and interventions designed to help you heal. They may also assign you homework (exercises, stretches, etc.) to complete between appointments.
How often you need to go to PT depends upon your issues, and your treatment plan, but typically, between six to twelve visits are typical.