With roots in ancient China some 5,000 years ago, physical therapy is a technique used to improve mobility, restore function, reduce pain and prevent further injury through the use of stretches, exercises, traction, electrical stimulation and massage. Though there are many types of physical therapy, but the common goal is to increase the patient’s ability to function at home and work.
In most cases, a physical therapist will examine the patient and review his or her medical record during the first visit, and then outlines a treatment plan that includes timetables for reaching certain goals and giving the patient at-home exercises to do in addition to the therapy sessions. Research tells us that in many cases patients do not follow their homework instructions—sometimes because of illness or disease—which can adversely affect their progress.
Physical therapy regimens are targeted to the patient’s condition and other health issues. During the early part of therapy, therapy sessions may be painful, so the patient may take pain medications.
When is physical therapy used?
Physical therapy is often used for musculoskeletal injuries, joint pain, lower back pain, cerebral palsy, and rehabilitation after an injury or surgery—for example, after heart surgery or a mastectomy.
Types of physical therapy
There are several different types of physical therapy geared toward specific problems. These include:
- Musculoskeletal physical therapy, which uses massage and joint movement to increase strength, motor control and flexibility
- Cardiovascular physical therapy, which treats heart and lung conditions (e.g., cerebral palsy, asthma and post–heart attack rehabilitation) by clearing the lungs of mucus, ventilating the lungs or exercising to increase the patient’s ability to move
- Neurological physical therapy, which works to restore coordination, balance and motor function for patients with Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other brain and nerve disorders through repeated exercises