Physical therapy (PT) is a type of health treatment that has the potential to alleviate symptoms associated with various injuries, disabilities, and other health conditions.
Ultimately, the aim of most physical therapists is to improve mobility as well as quality of life for patients. While physical therapy can be incredibly beneficial, and even life-changing for some patients, it’s not always the right option.
So, how can you tell if and when physical therapy is the right move for you?
The Many Forms of Physical Therapy
First, it’s important to understand that there are many different forms of physical therapy. Physical therapists can help with a wide range of different afflictions and they use different techniques to achieve desired results. Additionally, different people respond to therapy with various degrees of success, with some people finding it more valuable than others.
For example, physical therapists who focus on pelvic pain are going to use different strategies and techniques than physical therapists who focus on rehabilitating people after sports-related injuries. Pelvic pain can have numerous root causes, and generally takes a long time to treat; it also employs a totally separate set of exercises, for obvious reasons.
Most forms of physical therapy include some combination of the following:
- Physical exercise. Various exercises can promote healing and mobility.
- Stretching. Stretching also improves mobility and can improve blood flow.
- Massage. Various massage techniques can be used to minimize pain and promote recovery.
- Electrical stimulation. Some physical therapists also use electrical stimulation tools to achieve desired results.
- Heat and cold therapy. Hot and cold therapy is sometimes used to relieve pain and promote healing as well.
During these sessions, you’ll likely work one-on-one with an experienced physical therapist, who will employ some treatments directly, guide you in completing exercises, and teach you exercises and techniques you can use on yourself at home. They’ll also help you evaluate your progress so you can tell whether the sessions are making an impact.
The Benefits of Physical Therapy
Physical therapy has many potential benefits, including:
- Decreased pain. Many people who participate in regular physical therapy sessions credit those sessions with relieving or lessening their pain. If you regularly follow the exercises given to you by your physical therapists, and you attend sessions regularly, you may notice a gradual lessening of the pain you experience. This is an especially powerful effect if combined with other pain mitigation measures, such as taking pain medications.
- Improved mobility/movement. Physical therapy can also help you become more limber and restore mobility to areas of your body where mobility has been limited. With enough work and patience, you may be able to restore full functionality.
- Recovery from injuries. This type of treatment is often recommended for people suffering from acute injuries, such as broken bones or tendon issues. Physical therapy can promote healing and recovery, accelerating the path back to normalcy. These techniques may also be able to minimize long-term effects from past injuries.
- Avoidance of riskier treatments. Some medical professionals recommend physical therapy as a safer, more convenient alternative to riskier and/or more expensive treatments. For example, physical therapy is almost always safer and less expensive than surgery, making it the preferred option whenever it’s available. Even if surgery is likely to fix the problem, it’s worth trying physical therapy first.
- Mitigation of further problems and complications. Attending physical therapy sessions can also mitigate further problems and complications in certain health conditions. Pelvic issues, concussions, spinal conditions, and arthritis are just a handful of examples here.
Deciding Whether Physical Therapy Is the Right Move
People don’t trust the medical industry as much as they once did, but that doesn’t change the fact that medical professionals have significant knowledge and experience they can use to make reliable decisions about how to treat their patients. If you’re not sure whether physical therapy is right for you, talk to your doctor, and don’t be afraid to get a second opinion if you want one.
Physical therapy is better for some people than others, so you’ll need to keep the following factors in mind:
- Your physical health. Much depends on your physical health, as physical therapy can be somewhat demanding. If you’re completely bedridden, for example, it may be difficult for you to engage in even introductory physical therapy exercises. If you’re generally very healthy, you’re probably a good candidate for physical therapy. Being in poor physical health may also disqualify you from certain types of treatment (like surgery), potentially making light or modified physical therapy a better option.
- Your age. People of almost any age can benefit from physical therapy, but younger people and older people introduce different considerations. Teenagers and people over 90 have similarly benefitted from physical therapy in the past; what’s important is that the program is tailored to the individual’s needs.
- Your medical history. Many physicians will also consider your medical history before recommending physical therapy, to better understand your needs as an individual. If you’ve dealt with chronic pain for a prolonged period of time, and you’ve already tried all the immediately available remedies, physical therapy is often a good next step.
- Alternative treatments available. Physical therapy may or may not be recommended, based on alternative treatments available. If there is a safer, simpler, less expensive method, it will probably be recommended before physical therapy. Invasive and risky treatments will be avoided in favor of physical therapy.
- Your personal disposition. The decision should also be influenced by your personal disposition. Do you like the idea of physical therapy? Does it seem like something that could work for you? Try to keep an open mind here.
Physical Therapy Is Almost Always Worth a Try
If you’ve suffered a recent injury, if you’re dealing with chronic pain, or if you have another physical health affliction related to pain, mobility, or impaired functionality, physical therapy is almost always worth a try.
It’s safe, relatively inexpensive, and has the potential to deliver amazing results. Talk to your medical professional to see whether physical therapy is the right move for you.