Physical therapy might not be your first thought when it comes to nagging back pain, pesky headaches or even helping to control diabetes. But maybe it should be. Physical therapy (or PT as it’s commonly called) isn’t just for severe pain or after an accident or injury. PT encourages movement across all healthcare practices, from a fall to joint replacement to chronic shoulder pain. PT can be used to improve your ability to enjoy the activities that you love to do.
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Here physical therapists Mary Stilphen, PT, DPT, and Christine Schulte, PT, MBA, share five things that PT can help you manage:
- Improve mobility, balance and strength. Physical therapists are movement advocates. Part of their job is to teach you about cause and effect in the human body. Knee pain could be the result of needing to strengthen your hips, while carpal tunnel and neck pain could be the result of typing and texting too much. Physical therapy can help you adjust how you move in everyday activities as well as improve your form when you exercise. It’s important to be proactive about physical therapy and taking care of your body mechanics. A good PT will help explain why your body is reacting in a certain way and work with you to address and correct it.
- Avoid surgery. While surgery is sometimes unavoidable, pre-surgical PT (sometimes referred to as “pre-hab”) can help ease recovery time and may provide a better outcome post-surgery. Some patients have seen such an increase in motion and a reduction in pain after going to PT that they’ve opted out of surgery altogether.
- Prevent injury. There’s a good chance you’ve never seen a physical therapist unless you were injured, but it’s a good idea to treat PT as a form of preventative care. Maybe you want to have a competitive sports advantage or work on your posture. A good PT will learn about your activity level and teach you about what can be done to prevent injury — including how to be more aware when it comes to movement.
- Manage aging. As we age we are at risk to lose muscle mass and strength, making it harder to balance our own body weight. PT can help address joint pain, arthritic pain and osteoarthritis issues. It’s also important for aging adults to learn to make modifications and adjustments for everyday activities (like getting up out of a chair or walking up and down steps). PT can help you move with confidence and decrease the risk of falls and injury as you get older.
- Help control a disease or condition. Physical therapy extends well beyond rehabilitation centers. Some physical therapists are trained to help people with conditions involving their heart, lung or weight — or specialize in treating pelvic floor pain and dysfunction. People with type 2 diabetes, for example, can benefit from physical therapy as physical conditioning assists with weight loss through movement potentially reducing need for medications and reducing risk for heart disease and stroke. Another area of focus in PT is helping to manage neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis. When it comes to physical therapy, movement is medicine — and sometimes the worst medication prescribed after being diagnosed with an illness is “bed rest.”