Eye On Physical Therapy
October is National Physical Therapy month! I know most of you have this marked on your calendar and are planning fun activities to help celebrate. Actually, physical therapists practice a profession that people have heard of but unless they have had the need of one is not really sure what it is. So in honor of National Physical Therapy month, today’s column will be about what physical therapy is.
When I meet people and tell them I am a physical therapist some remark that they have received therapy before and offer comments: "I had physical therapy and ultrasound didn’t work for me" or " I loved getting a massage during therapy". Physical Therapy as a profession is often confused with the modalities that are used to achieve an outcome. Ultrasound is a modality that is used to decrease pain and improve blood flow; period. It does not define physical therapy. The modalities that we utilize include electric stimulation, ultrasound, heat, ice, massage, joint mobilization, short wave diathermy, infrared light, UV light, cold laser etc. Just as a medicine is not defined by the tools that MD’s use neither is physical therapy defined by our tools.
Physical Therapists can practice in a large number of environments. PT’s working in pediatrics start early intervention with infants as young as a few months. PT’s in hospitals may work with acute care patients who may have had hip surgery, a stroke or heart attack. The patient may go on to cardiac rehab with a PT. They may go home and get home care from a PT who will teach them how to safely move about their home while they recover. Other PT’s may work with patients in a large rehab facility for patients that have had a traumatic brain injury or spinal cord injury. Patients in wheel chairs may see a PT for debridement of non healing ulcers or wounds on their foot or buttock. You may see a therapist in an outpatient setting for back or neck pain.
Regardless of where a therapist practices, their job is the same. As movement specialists, PT’s must identify faulty movements, the underlying cause, and design a program to correct it. Physical Therapy is about restoring the normal strength, flexibility, and mobility to a joint or joints. With each patient population the underlying cause can be different. In pain syndromes, poor posture and injury cause muscular imbalance that throw the system out of equilibrium. We compare the movement seen, to what we know as text book normal and initiate a program to correct. This program can include electric stimulation to decrease pain, or massage to decrease spasm or moist heat to a muscle.
Physical Therapy is one of the most rewarding professions there is. There is not a week that goes by that I don’t thank God for this career path. Relieving a person’s pain, restoring their independence, or helping them to dance at a grandson’s wedding makes it all worthwhile.