Most people come to know the benefits of physical therapy after rehabilitation from an injury or recovery from surgery. Some even attend therapy on the first day for an initial evaluation without any knowledge of why or even how physical therapy is going to help them, stating honestly, “I don’t know why I’m here, my doctor told me to come.”
Physical therapy is a treatment for disease, injury or deformity. Physical therapists are the movement specialists. This means that we, as therapists, watch the way people move and function in order to predict impairments and observe functional limitations. We evaluate the patient’s tissue flexibility, joint mobility, muscle tone and strength to find the imbalances, which eventually leads to tissue breakdown.
Injuries can occur acutely from trauma injuries or gradually over time from repetitive microtrauma. When asked to perform a specific task, the body will find the path of least resistance in order to accomplish that task. Just as we go to the dentist every six months for cleaning and preventative maintenance, and take our car to the mechanic for an oil change, we should also treat our bodies with the same care. Imagine getting four new tires on your car when the alignment is slightly off. Over time, the more miles driven with repetitive stress causes one tire to abnormally wear, becoming bald on one side. Before you know it, the tire blows out on the freeway without any warning. The human body isn’t much different.
How many times have you heard someone say “I just bent over to tie my shoe and my back went out” or “I reached into the back seat of the car and felt pain/pop in my shoulder”? These are normal movements we perform daily and can be treated and potentially prevented through physical therapy.
Knowledge is power. Education from a movement specialist can help to improve your health by healing injuries and preventing unnecessary tissue breakdown, which leads to pain and injury. It improves quality of life and prevents future injuries by correcting and changing body mechanics during daily functional activities.
Physical therapy can be beneficial for people of all ages. One example we see in the pediatric population is an increase in overuse or repetitive trauma injuries, representing approximately 50% of all pediatric sport-related injuries. “It is speculated that more than half of these injuries may be preventable with simple approaches” that include, but are not limited to “identification of risk factors for injury, preparticipation physical examinations, proper supervision and education (coaching and medical), sport alterations, training and conditioning programs, and delayed specialization” (Valovich, 2011).
Another example is evident in the middle-aged and elderly population in the occurrence of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is defined by the degeneration of joint cartilage and the underlying bone caused by “wear and tear” of the joint. The changes made over time are irreversible, however, the disease process can be slowed and does not have to result in surgical intervention or joint replacement. Regular exercise improves pain, joint mobility and functional strength. “A balanced diet, and a healthful weight can help you reduce your risk of developing osteoarthritis, especially in the hips and knees, or suffering sports injuries. Exercise helps bone density, improves muscle strength and joint flexibility, and enhances your balance” (Joint Health and Care: Prevention, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment, 2009). If osteoarthritis has progressed and is unrelieved by preventative measures, injections or physical therapy, the next step is arthroscopic surgery or joint replacement. Physical therapy can help pre and post surgical intervention to decrease pain, improve mobility and functional strength, and help the patient to return to full functional level without pain or restrictions.
Physical therapy doesn’t just benefit the young athlete or middle aged/elderly individual suffering from arthritis, it can be helpful for anyone at any age, dealing with any source of pain, disease or deformity. Living with pain is not normal. Pain is your body’s way of letting you know that if you continue doing what you are doing, without making any changes, some serious wear and tear or injury can occur in the future. Do not ignore pain.
Visit your local Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy clinic for an evaluation to address your concerns, find the impairments and correct movement faults to help prevent wear and tear or future injuries.
Joint Health and Care: Prevention, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment. NIH Medline Plus. Spring 2009 Issue: Volume 4 Number 2 Page 14. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/magazine/issues/spring09/articles/spring09pg14.html
Valovich McLeod, T.C., et al. (2011). National Athletic Trainer’s Association Position Statement: Prevention of Pediatric Overuse Injuries. Journal of Athletic Training. Mar-Apr; 46(2): 206-220. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3070508/