Updated on 3/17/23: published at an earlier date and updated with new information.
Sports medicine’s health care specialists on and off the field
You’ve seen them hustling across the football field or crouching beside a player on the sideline whose face is twisted in pain.
They don’t wear the black and white stripes of the referee, but their breed is just as easy to spot. And their presence on the field can be just as critical as a game-changing field goal, free throw or hat trick.
Enter the athletic trainer.
Often sporting khaki pants, a fanny pack and a polo or sports shirt in team colors, athletic trainers are recognizable in how they look and, more importantly, for what they do.
But if in your mind’s eye you picture an NFL or NBA game, it might surprise you to know the diverse places where athletic trainers work and the scope of work.
While most often associated with sports, athletic trainers are vital practitioners of medical care in many settings on and off the playing field, including the workplace and a few places that might surprise you.
Let’s dive in for a deeper look at these health care specialists.
Partners in injury and injury prevention
No matter the type of athletics, athletic trainers are at the center of a sports medical team – individuals trained in athletic health care.
The athletic trainer is generally first on the playing surface when a player goes down. They have precious little time to do an initial assessment to determine the type and severity of injury or medical emergency. In an emergency, they are the ones to signal for the team physicians and medics to come on the playing area.
For those on the sidelines or in the bleachers, whether game time or practice, athletic trainers provide reassurance in times of injury.
After all, injuries happen.
And if you’re an athlete, a weekend warrior or you have a physically demanding job, you may have more chance of injury than someone who’s not as active.
From athletic injury to onsite emergency care
Though it’s not something we like to think about when suiting up for a game or packing the SUV for a tailgate, medical emergencies can and do happen in any setting.
As part of a sports medicine team, an athletic trainer will know first aid, CPR and automated external defibrillator use (AED).
When NFL safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest and collapsed on the field, CPR and AED were administered on the spot.
Emergency treatment lasted 20 minutes before Hamlin could be moved. The quick medical treatment put a spotlight on just how valuable athletic trainers are because of their skills in emergency medicine.
As first on the playing surface to assess the situation, athletic trainers inform the medical team of any life-threatening injury to initiate emergency medical care.
While the on-site response is critical, there’s also a tactical side to athletic training work that’s just as important in times of crisis.
We can put them in a short list of critical need-to-knows that in the face of emergency help the medical response teams stay calm, organized and effective:
- Emergency Action Plan to handle crisis situations
- Emergency phone numbers
- Ambulance access points at venues
- The working condition of onsite emergency equipment, like AEDs
Another thing that’s a must for all athletic trainers: great communication skills.
Athletic trainers are the source of communication between coaches and family when a player is injured. Their job includes reporting on the injury and expectations from the point of injury to next steps toward recovery.
Post-injury. Return to play. Return to work.
Okay, you’ve had an injury (ouch!).
You completed recovery and rehab (hooray!).
What comes next?
The next stage in post-injury progression is your return – return to play (RTP) or return to work.
This happens after your medical care provider is satisfied with your progress and clears you to get back to sports and physical activities. Working with an athletic trainer is essential in getting to this stage.
While an athletic trainer is first on the scene to assess injury, they’ll be in your corner to guide your recovery.
Your athletic trainer will do functional tests and look at your performance stats to gauge your readiness for activity, at what level and at what pace. There may be others in your corner that your trainer will coordinate to help with your full rehabilitation:
- Physical therapist
- Occupational therapist
- Strength and conditioning coach
- Massage therapist
- Sports psychologist
For you as an athlete, and depending on your injury, functional tests can include:
- Cutting drills (lower body injuries)
- Lifting and push-pull exercises (upper body injuries)
Athletic trainers use the stats to pinpoint any deficits remaining post-injury recovery, like limping or weakness, which could hinder you from safely retuning to play.
If testing is clear of any concerns, you’ll get the green light to return to full activity.
If there are areas of concerns, your trainer may plan additional exercises, or modify your activity level to help you improve on the deficits and continue toward full clearance.
Return to play is unique to each athlete and injury. The goal of functional testing and injury recovery is to ensure your safety on the playing field when returning from an injury.
Around the world, athletic trainers are looked to as trusted professionals playing a crucial part in health management and health care.
Multi-skilled and holding advanced certification to help athletes, performers and people across many job settings, athletic trainers bring benefits to health care. If you’ve been sidelined from work, missed out hanging with friends or playing your sport because of injury – or a repeated injury – there’s good news.
Working with an athletic trainer now can help avoid injury later. Put another way, you don’t have to wait until you’re injured to address the issue.
An athletic trainer can identify weaknesses or conditions that may be leading to your injuries and help correct them.
This approach is called prehab – preventive activity to decrease risk of future injury. Two important areas include:
Functional movement screens
Done by an athletic trainer to identify dysfunctional or painful movement patterns.
Exercises are taught to correct movement and any bad habits you may have acquired in compensating for pain. These can be done on their own or as part of a warm-up before activity.
For example, a proper warm-up using dynamic stretching can help increase blood flow to loosen muscles prior to activity, whether it’s working out or warming up before performing a concert or dance routine.
Proper nutrition, hydration and sleep are all needed to keep the body in the right state for exercise. But it takes planning and discipline to adopt the right approach for your body and your activity level.
Your athletic trainer is your partner in injury prevention and can advise you on the right balance of all these things.
Athletic training: beyond the playing field
There’s high regard for the public work that athletic trainers do in helping individuals avoid injury and recover from injury.
Not surprising, then, are the standards that trainers are held to.
Athletic trainers must graduate with a bachelors or master’s degree and pass the Board of Certification Exam (BOC) to work with professional athletes. There’s also regular renewals on the certification to demonstrate continued learning and competence.
All this is to ensure that athletes are healthy and performing at their peak potential.
But think about the word “athlete.”
In a traditional sense – youth and high school programs to college and professional divisions – it conjures a playing field, ice rink, basketball court, you name it.
So this nugget may surprise you:
“Only 2% of all athletic trainers work in professional sports.”
Athletic trainers work in all sorts of job settings and treat a host of individuals beyond traditional sporting venues, such as:
- Doctors’ offices
- Hospitals and emergency rooms
- Urgent Care centers
- Rehabilitation centers
Outside of clinical settings, there are many emerging job settings where athletic trainers are finding new opportunities in public safety, military schools and the armed forces, and in performing arts and aeronautics. There’s a whole program at Boeing called the Industrial Athlete program designed to keep employees who work in physically demanding jobs healthy.
Such specialty industries employ individuals who need certain levels of fitness to do their jobs. They also need training to reduce risk on the job and stay fit for duty.
Add to those, various commercial settings like airlines, warehouses, hotel/resort and theme parks, and an athletic trainer’s scope of practice broadens even more.
For each of these sectors athletic trainers will have specific training to provide medical care based on the unique activities, physical demands and requirements of the employees.
This article shares a small window into the immense discipline of athletic training. It’s a discipline that’s grown from its origins of sport athleticism to stretch beyond the sidelines and into patient and employee health care.
Around the world, athletic trainers are looked to as trusted professionals playing a crucial part in health management and health care.
No matter where you encounter them, athletic trainers share the goal of keeping active people safe, well and moving forward.
Click to request an appointment to work with our Athletic Training Services team. If you are am employer interested in worksite safety training, check out our WorkStrategies® Program.
Posted 2/14/2023. | 5 min. read
How we are helping patients access effective pelvic health therapy
Physical therapy (PT) – as an industry – talks a lot about the benefits of PT, sometimes in general terms.
It can help with the management of aches and pain.
It can help you heal from injury.
It can help you regain strength and improve mobility after surgery.
It can even help you avoid surgery – read Reason 3 in this popular blog to learn how.
And while all that’s true, for this blog we’re taking a bit of a departure to talk about a more, well… pressing problem.
Pelvic floor dysfunction.
It can literally feel like pressure – or pain – in your pelvic region, either in the front or the rear of your pelvic area.
This is a condition that’s a growing problem among U.S. adults – about 25 million – women and men.
And it’s been the elephant in the room that, until recently, no one really wanted to talk about. Let alone admit they knew the elephant was there.
But the American physical therapy community is bringing the elephant into the light to drive conversation, education and new ways to access care and treatment of pelvic issues.
Now, there’s no need for a show of hands, but if a belly laugh makes you leak urine, if a bowel movement causes you misery or you’re bounding to the bathroom and hoping to make it, this blog is for you.
Read on to learn more.
What is the pelvic floor and its function?
Like many other body parts, the pelvic floor is a mix of muscles, ligaments and connective tissue that fit together to form and support various organs in the body. In other words, this “floor” is the base of your pelvis and home to important organs.
Picture the bladder, bowel, uterus (women) or prostate (men) within the pelvic area and the pelvic muscles holding them all in place. Now imagine a bowl holding fruit or a hammock holding a peson – that’s what the pelvic floor does.
The support of the pelvic muscles allows us to go to the bathroom without issue. That’s all thanks to the normal function of the muscles tightening and releasing as they should.
But when the pelvic floor muscles are weak (hypotonic) or become too tight (hypertonic) – more about these in a bit – it’s called pelvic floor dysfunction.
That dysfunction can lead to all sorts of uncomfortable or embarrassing things for women and men.
Pelvic dysfunction: women vs. men
Every year millions of women and men experience pelvic floor dysfunction.
In both genders the pelvic floor muscles are attached in two places: the pubic bone (front) and the tail bone (back).
Both genders can share similar symptoms of pain – internal organs, pelvis, hip, groin and tailbone – incontinence, constipation and declining sexual health.
But there are key differences and causes for the dysfunction, too.
Pelvic floor dysfunction: women
- Reproductive health due to muscle strain during pregnancy or prolonged labor
- Painful sex due to the muscles’ inability to relax
- Muscle weakness that causes the pelvic organs to drop through the vagina or rectum
Women who have had multiple births have an increased chance of developing pelvic floor dysfunction.
Often, they may feel like their pelvic floor muscles are too weak or loose – a hypotonic pelvic floor. This means your pelvic floor muscles do not have the strength to properly position and stabilize your pelvis. Because of this you may experience symptoms of incontinence when you cough, sneeze, laugh or exercise.
Alternately, women can have hypertonic pelvic floor muscles. Increased tension in a muscle is created when you hold the muscles tight for a prolonged period of time – like when you have chronic pain. A good example is endometriosis. Symptoms of a hypertonic pelvic floor would be pain with pelvic exams, pain with intercourse and difficulty using a tampon.
Pelvic floor dysfunction: men
- Erectile dysfunction that may be caused by muscle tension
- Extreme workouts or long-term sports due to the core muscles being engaged for long periods
- Testicular pain
- Prior prostate surgery
These are just some of the many factors that can contribute to pelvic floor dysfunction. If you’re experiencing any type of dysfunction of the pelvic region, it’s recommended to seek help.
Can physical therapy help pelvic floor dysfunction?
In a word, yes.
Physical therapy can be an effective and non-invasive, non-surgical way to help with pelvic floor dysfunction.
It may be key in finally finding relief and getting back to a better quality of life. So if you’re one of the more than 25 million U.S. adults whose laughter, coughing or sneezing we referenced at the top of this article – or whose pelvic area is in constant pain – impacts your day-to-day, you may want to talk with one of our pelvic floor therapists.
Of course, depending on what your symptoms are and how long you’ve had them will determine the best type of therapy and its length.
With all the DIY self-help on the internet and apps to download for pretty much anything, you may think there are plenty of ways to find improvement without working with a specialist. Or you may think it too embarrassing to talk about. But the reality is that a pelvic health specialist is trained in how the body functions and can determine the nature of your pelvic floor condition and work with you one-on-one.
You’ll benefit from a professional assessment and a program of therapy and exercises we’ll put together just for you and your needs.
Without an assessment, there’s no way of knowing which muscles or body parts you need to focus on. With DIY you’ll be guessing, which could lead to bigger problems.
Working with us, you’ll have the benefit of immediate feedback to adjust your exercise and monitor your progress.
If you’re experiencing pelvic pain or any of the symptoms we’ve highlighted, it’s important to seek medical attention. A physical therapist can provide the necessary treatments to help reduce and eliminate your pain and discomfort.
To request an appointment to work with one of our clinical team members or ask us questions about treatment, fill out our short online form. A member of our team will connect with you to confirm your visit.
Colleen Hickey Appointed National Director of Select Medical’s Outpatient Pelvic Health Rehabilitation Program
Posted 2/13/2023. | 1 min. read
Select Medical, Dignity Health Physical Therapy's parent company, has appointed Colleen Hickey, MHA, M.S., P.T., as the national director of its outpatient pelvic health rehabilitation program. Colleen previously served as pelvic health program director in the mid-Atlantic region.
She has more than 30 years of experience in the physical therapy industry, including 10 years in pelvic health therapy. Prior to her national role, Colleen developed and implemented a pelvic health program for the Select Medical-UPMC joint venture in central Pennsylvania. The program currently has 63 clinicians in 52 centers.
“Pelvic floor dysfunction negatively impacts the quality of life of millions of Americans, and while conservative care has shown to be effective in treating this condition, access to these services remains limited and therapy is underutilized,” said Colleen. “I’m passionate about pelvic health and honored to take on this leadership role to bring the highest level of pelvic floor therapy to those who need it.”
Originally written on 10/18/2021 by: Joe Zucco, P.T., DPT, FAAOMPT, center manager for Select Physical Therapy. Updated 1/30/2023 to include new data and information. | 5 min. read
For many of us, our smartphones are an indispensable part of our lives.
We use them to stay connected to family and friends, get information in seconds and tap our way through our favorite music, news, social pages, sports stats and recipe sites. We also use them to keep our personal and work appointments organized.
But, with all our tech device touchpoints each day, there’s a very real and painful side effect.
Studies show that we’re spending too much time hunched over our devices, creating tech neck, also called “text neck”.
Fortunately, physical therapy exercises can help you get rid of tech neck pain.
In this blog post, we’ll cover what tech neck is and the side effects of spending too much time on your phone.
We’ve even thrown in a surprising look at the pressure you’re putting on yourself that’s causing tech neck. Then we’ll leave you with five essential exercises to get rid of it.
What is tech neck?
Tech neck is a term used to describe the neck pain that has become increasingly more common due to our overuse of technology.
It’s caused by the strain on the neck from looking down at our phones and tablets for long periods of time.
This strain can cause pain, stiffness and even limited range of motion. And it’s becoming increasingly more common in younger generations due to the amount of time they spend on their devices.
Side effects of spending too much time on your phone
The yearly climb in how many hours US adults – and kids – spend on their mobile phones, feature phones and tablets will reach 4 hours, 35 minutes per day in 2023.
- research from Insider Intelligence
That’s a 2.5% increase since last year! Up from 3 hours, 42 minutes in 2018.
The side effects of spending too much time on your phone can range from mild discomfort to severe pain and stiffness.
The most common side effects include:
- neck and shoulder pain
- poor posture
Other side effects can include numbness and tingling in the arms and hands, as well as blurred vision.
It’s not something we think about often, but the human head is between 10 and 12 pounds.
That’s a bowling ball!
When you lean your head down, the lower the angle, the more pressure and strain that’s put on the head. That can feel like 10 bowling balls.
If you’re experiencing any symptoms of tech neck, physical therapy can help.
5 essential exercises for tech neck
Hunched over, staring at your phone? Your head pushed out in front of your shoulders? This is the starting position for retraction.
When you realize you’re hunched over, pull your chin backward while looking directly forward. You should feel a “double-chin” forming under your jaw.
Repeat this forward/backward exercise 10 times once an hour or two while working or catching up on texts.
Tension in the upper trapezius muscles is common. These muscles span the back of the neck and shoulders, working in tandem to move the head and shoulder blades. The trap stretch can be performed any time you feel tight.
Just 20-30 seconds for each side of the neck to release tension.
To stretch the right side, place your right hand on your waist or lower back, tilt your head to the left while looking back to the right. Place your left hand on top of your head and gently pull toward the left until you feel a comfortable stretch. Don’t overdo it.
Repeat on the other side.
Okay… let’s be honest. This one might look a bit odd if your cubicle mates walk by while you’re doing this stretch.
But the Ah-hhh factor will be worth it!
Lean forward in your chair. Pretend you’re smashing a pillow between your belly and thighs. Place your hands with fingers crossed behind your head.
Do this one every couple hours while sitting at your work space. Who knows? You might convince others to join in.
The next two exercises might be better done at home… curious onlookers and all.
Lie face down on the floor with your arms at your side, hands near the hips.
Keep your neck straight (do not look upward).
Lift your chin, arms and knees slightly off the floor.
Hold the position for 2-3 seconds and release to the floor. Repeat 10 times for three sets.
Lie face down on the floor with your arms reaching upward and slightly outward from your head.
Keep your neck straight and lift your chin, arms and knees off the ground.
Hold the position for 2-3 seconds and release to the floor. Repeat 10 times for three sets.
With the overhead arm position, this exercise emphasizes the lower trapezius muscle between your shoulder blades. The prone scaption can be performed 2-3 days each week to promote strengthening of the muscles across the back of your neck, shoulders and torso.
Strengthening your neck posture
In addition to the exercises listed above, it’s important to pay attention to your posture while using your phone or tablet.
Keep your chin parallel to the ground, and make sure your neck is in line with your spine. This will help reduce the strain on your neck and reduce tech neck pain.
Tech or text neck and how to avoid it
If you’re looking to avoid tech neck pain in the future, the best way is to limit your use of technology.
Set limits on how much screen time you spend on your phone or have your apps running.
Take regular breaks from looking at your screen.
You can also invest in a stand for your phone or tablet that angles the screen toward you, so you don’t have to look down as much.
And now, armed with these exercises, stay active and stretch regularly to keep your neck and shoulder muscles flexible to reduce the strain on your neck. Save the bowling balls for when you go bowling.
If you’re experiencing neck pain, it’s important to seek medical attention. A physical therapist can provide the necessary treatments to help reduce and eliminate pain. Request an appointment to work with one of our movement experts near you.
Posted 1/12/2023 | 4 min. read
You may think about physical therapy as a way to get back on your feet after an injury or regain strength after surgery.
And you would be right.
A typical idea of what physical therapy looks like might include a room with padded tables, balance balls and exercise equipment. These are traditional items well-known to those working through movement issues with the professional help and guidance of a physical therapist.
Treatments using these items are pretty standard for improving strength and restoring movement.
But did you know there are other types of treatments – and equipment – that while maybe not be as common are also effective in improving movement?
As a movement expert, your physical therapist can evaluate the type of treatment or treatments that can benefit your condition. Chances are, there may be a mix of traditional and not-so-traditional treatments to:
- Increase your range of motion
- Decrease pain and discomfort
- Build endurance
- Lower or avoid the need for medication
- Recover quality of life
Depending on your condition or diagnosis, the success of some less familiar physical therapy treatments can make them a consideration for your care plan.
Cupping treats muscle and soft tissue dysfunction, like spasms, swelling and pain.
This manual technique uses small silicone “cups” or “domes” (sometimes glass) pressed against the flesh to create suction.
The technique stimulates blood flow as the suction pulls the skin upward into the cup. This expands tiny blood vessels under the skin to increase blood flow, turning the cupped area a reddish or pink color.
Cupping has been around for thousands of years, but is one of the lesser known techniques employed to ease:
- Back and neck pain
- Headache relief
Much different than cupping, which targets broader areas of the body, dry needling is a micro treatment.
As the name implies, dry needling uses thin needles inserted into the skin at precise points in the muscle where there is pain or sensitivity. These points in the muscle, when touched or stimulated, can trigger pain, which is why this treatment is also known as “trigger point dry needling.” There is no medication delivered through the needle, like with a vaccine, which is why it’s called a dry needle.
When inserted into the skin, the needle shuts down the trigger point, easing or eliminating the pain.
Though it uses needles, this alternative method of pain relief is not acupuncture, a common misconception.
Dry needling is a technique for stimulating and releasing trigger points, while acupuncture is a practice that’s focused on restoring energy flow in the body.
In the dry needle procedure, the length of the needle will depend on the area of the body being treated. Most people feel little or no pain, and the procedure lasts about 15 minutes.
If appropriate for your type of pain, our therapists will create a treatment plan that includes dry needling along with other therapies.
Dry needling is not a service provided in every state. Find a location near you that provides dry needling services.
Instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM)
Ever had a deep tissue massage? That firm pressure targeting a deep ache or an area of chronic pain?
Well, IASTM is a technique that gets deep into the tissues, including the muscles.
Similar to deep tissue massage, soft tissue mobilization works like standard massage, but using specialized instruments. Used quite often in physical therapy, it allows for more direct treatment than just using the hands.
IASTM produces good results for large muscle groups as well as smaller, targeted areas.
Angle and pressure in using the instruments help your therapist work on a specific layer of soft tissue during treatment. Often, these are areas where prior injury or long-term overuse has contributed to a build-up of scar tissue that IASTM can help break down.
IASTM is a good choice for many who have soft tissue pain or injury contributing to movement restriction, including:
- Arthritis sufferers
- Workers who perform long-term repetitive tasks or whose job has them on their feet a lot
Read more to find out if you’d be a candidate for IASTM.
To request a consultation for any of our specialty services or ask us questions regarding treatment, fill out our short online form. A member of our team will connect with you directly.
If you’d rather speak with someone personally, call our toll-free scheduling line at (800) 779-6682.
Posted 12/8/2022 | 4 min. read
If you’ve never been to a physical therapist, you may not know some of it’s surprising benefits.
And if you have needed physical therapy (also known as PT) at some point, this article may still hold some surprising considerations.
But first things first. Like the not so subtle calendar to the right.
Yes, it’s that time again, when the old year is about ready to phase into a new one. For many of our readers, the little red circle at the end of the month sounds the alarm for just-oh-how-much still needs to get done.
But give us a few minutes and we’ll give you five reasons for the importance – and benefits – of fitting physical therapy into your end-of-the-year routine to jump start your healthy new year.
Take a minute to assess this past year.
If there’s one fact that we share it’s that we all got older.
Now, we’re not asking you to share your age, but just think about how you’re feeling overall.
Tired? A bit run-down?
Less energy, perhaps, or maybe just not feeling as healthy as you did at the beginning of the year.
As we age, we lose muscle mass and endurance. You may notice new aches and pains or popping – crunchy – noises in your joints. Physical therapy can address all these conditions, and our therapists (aka movement experts) can help with joint pain, arthritis, balance issues and teaching you how to make simple adjustments to your everyday movements to feel better and help prevent aches or an injury.
Physical therapy can be a great way to give your body a tune-up and move more easily.
It’s a big enough reason that there are organizations dedicated to its study. A 2022 “Stress in America” study shows the worsening effects of stress in the U.S. The end-of-the-year holidays can increase stress and anxiety.
Many of our patients come to us with tension in the neck, shoulders and back. These are three main areas where stress can set in and have you feeling unwell.
Physical therapy, especially manual (hands-on) therapy and instrument-guided soft tissue mobilization therapy, can help relieve stress by relaxing muscles and pinpointing treatment to the connective tissue around the muscles.
Our therapists can also give tips for exercise and simple stretches that can do wonders for reducing stress.
Never heard about prehab?
Well, then this may just surprise you. If you’re headed for surgery in the New Year, pre-surgical physical therapy can be a helpful way to prepare now (the “pre”), and help you recover more quickly afterward (the “rehab”).
We see many good results using this approach with joint replacement surgery.
Post-operative studies show prehab leads to better outcomes, including:
- Fewer days in the hospital
- More stamina for physical exercise after discharge
- Getting familiar with therapy equipment – before surgery – that will be used in your rehabilitation
Injury prevention is often a less talked about benefit of physical therapy.
But we place just as much value on learning how to help prevent injury as on how to recover from injury.
Depending on where you live, the change in weather can mean more cold, snow and ice. And that can mean more slips, trips and falls.
But slips, trips and falls can happen in the home too, especially if you’re at a higher risk for falling due to balance issues, like vertigo or dizziness. Or maybe you need help learning to use a new assistive device safely, like a walker.
Physical therapists are familiar with body anatomy and how the body moves – it’s why we call them movement experts.
Their knowledge of a wide range of body parts makes them an excellent source for helping you learn exercises to strengthen and stabilize your muscles. These exercises are meant to help you stay safe and reduce the risk of falling.
For an athlete, sports injury prevention is important, and physical therapy can help with that too. Our physical therapists understand the risks in playing a sport and ways to reduce the most common types of injuries, like stress fractures, ACL tears and concussion.
End-of-year insurance benefits.
For those with a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), this is money that needs to be spent by December 31 each year.
If you haven’t finished your full course of physical therapy sessions (usually between 6 and 10), don’t put it off. This is a great way to focus on your wellbeing during this busy time of year.
Flexible Spending Account (FSA) and Health Saving Account (HSA) monies can be used for physical therapy and co-pays. If you haven’t already been applying your funds toward co-pays, December is the time to start. If you’re unsure about your insurance billing, we can help answer your questions.
And a final bonus benefit!
If you have a spending account balance remaining, you might consider using it to buy products that you use in our centers for your home exercise sessions. Check out the items we have on selectmedical.performancehealth.com and stay healthy and strong into the New Year.
Posted 11/3/2022 | 5 min. read
If you google physical therapy definition you’ll find this short explanation. You’ll even be able to hear how to pronounce it.
the treatment of disease, injury, or deformity by physical methods such as massage, heat treatment, and exercise rather than by drugs or surgery.
While that’s pretty straight-forward, unpacking this definition reveals much more about this medical practice than a simple definition.
It may surprise you to learn that physical therapy isn’t a new thing. In fact, the roots of modern-day physical therapy go back in time…
Back to ancient Greece and Rome and the early practice of water therapy and massage to help improve movement. Water therapy and massage are still widely used as part of physical therapy treatments.
As its name suggests, physical therapy (PT) had its beginnings in physical, hands-on treatment.
Today’s physical therapy, also called physiotherapy, is still a hands-on practice. But it also includes technology in care delivery, like telerehab care. This lets people work with a therapist over the internet for in-home physical therapy.
Whether hands-on/in-person or web-based, physical therapy is a way to treat movement and mobility issues, without the risk of surgery, and is drug-free.
Physical therapy’s scope and purpose
In practice, physical therapy covers a broad scope of treatment for:
- Joint motion
- Spinal misalignment
- Bone malformation and breaks
- Muscle weakness
- Respiratory dysfunction and endurance
- Joint inflammation and pain
- Limb loss and limb difference
- Cardio-vascular function
- Nerve damage
- Pelvic and bladder dysfunction
- Inner ear disorders
- Soft tissue damage
Physical therapy, at its core, treats impairment and functional limitation. Therapists are medical professionals and highly skilled in understanding anatomy and body function. They are also licensed to perform treatment.
Before delivering any services, a therapist will take a thorough history of your condition to understand its severity. Depending on your symptoms, they may also gauge:
- Standing and walking ability
- Skin and muscle tone
- Comfort and fit of orthotics and prosthetics
This consultation helps determine the kind of care and treatment techniques that may be of benefit for healing and recovery.
If physical therapy can help, this is the best time to ask questions and learn more about what your treatment will include.
What might physical therapy treatment look like for you?
Everyone’s body structure is different. As we age, our bodies change.
Pain and discomfort may become less tolerable. Healing may take longer.
Between any two people, pain, discomfort and healing ability are different too.
At Dignity Health Physical Therapy, we take all of that into consideration. After an initial consult, a treatment plan will be tailored for you. The treatment plan is the guide for what, when and how treatment happens. This is a key factor in the success of your physical therapy experience.
To begin, there’s a time element for physical therapy and getting the best results.
Typically, therapy sessions last from 30-90 minutes.
Sessions are scheduled two to three times per week. Your first session may start right after the initial consult or be scheduled for a different date.
At each session your therapist will assess your progress based on your treatment plan.
Sessions involve physical activity, so it’s important to dress comfortably.
Tip: Wear loose clothing. If you choose to wear exercise gear, be sure that you can roll up your pant legs and sleeves (or wear shorts/t-shirt). This allows your therapist to easily work on your arms and legs.
Your treatment may include the use of a variety of therapy exercise equipment to get the best experience in your sessions:
- Training stairs
- Balance stabilizers
- Recumbent bikes
- Free weights
- Therapy bands
- Parallel bars
- Posture mirrors
Some of these may be unfamiliar at first, but therapists are your partners in learning. They will teach you what the equipment is and what it’s for. They will also explain proper use and the results you can expect.
Some therapy aspects are more familiar like water, ice and heat.
Others may be specialized therapies delivered by therapists with advanced training. Some of the leading techniques:
- Dry needling for pain relief
- IASTM treatment using specialized instruments
- Cupping for relieving soft tissue pain
Your physical therapist may recommend doing some exercises at home. These will be prescribed by your therapist so that they are consistent with your treatment plan. The goal is to keep moving and improving in between one-on-one sessions.
A proactive benefit of physical therapy
Physical therapy is most often done for corrective and rehabilitative reasons.
But physical therapy is moving beyond being just for recovery. It’s now also a preventive practice to help avoid injury.
Athletes and individuals who are active in hobby or league sports may benefit from therapy designed for athletic health.
While a physical therapist may work with athletes, treatment can also be given by certified athletic trainers working with the newest techniques for treating athletes.
A primary focus of athletic health is education on injury prevention. It’s designed to optimize athletic performance, specifically to avoid injury or re-injury.
Preventive therapy crosses into other functional areas. This includes working with people who engage in active, physical or repetitive activities.
Called prehab in some medical circles, here, again, the emphasis is on the proactive side of preventing injury. Prehab uses education and preventive techniques with patients to strengthen muscles and joints used on a regular basis.
Prehab can be especially effective in on-the-job safety to manage work injury risks and with performing artists to help prevent common injuries in their art form.
Physical therapy and its specialty areas have the goal of restoring movement and improving impairment for better quality of life.
This is our goal. If physical therapy sounds right for you, fill out our online Request an appointment form. A member of our team will connect with you to confirm your visit.
Busting the myth that nothing can be done to treat hand and thumb arthritis
- 58+ million adults are affected by arthritis (1 in 4)
- 57% of working adults (18-64 years old) are affected by arthritis
- Arthritis is the leading cause of work disability in the U.S.
- Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis
As someone who provides care for people with osteoarthritis, my heart sinks at those numbers from the CDC. The sheer number of people impacted by arthritis is disheartening.
And as a hand therapist, I often have people tell me that they are having issues but “know there is nothing that can be done about it.”
Osteoarthritis of the thumb affects the base of the thumb, where the thumb meets the bones at the wrist. Over time, and as we age, the cartilage in this joint breaks down.
Sometimes called "wear and tear" arthritis, OA was once thought of as something that we just have to deal with.
Well, I can say that's no longer the case.
While we can’t change the wear and tear on our cartilage, we can reduce the resulting symptoms.
What are the symptoms of hand and thumb osteoarthritis and what can help?
- Loss of motion
- Loss of function
With a lot of research in recent years, we now understand that OA is more than just cartilage breakdown.
OA also involves the fluid in the joint, as well as the ligaments and the muscles that support the joint.
Age, gender and genetics all play a part in the onset of osteoarthritis. And while there's not much we can do about those, the good news is there are things we can do. These include:
- Reducing extra stress placed on our joints
- Eating healthier
- Doing gentle movement
- Retraining muscles
An easy way to remember what helps reduce arthritis symptoms is a phrase often used by therapists, “Motion is Lotion."
How do I know it's time to do something about my thumb OA?
Because thumb OA usually is a gradual process and the changes are subtle, early symptoms can go unnoticed until you begin having pain or weakness. Increased stress on your joints adds to the factors contributing to what you experience as pain and swelling.
The base of the thumb is a unique joint. It gives us the ability to twist, pinch and grip. With OA, you may have stiffness that prevents pulling your thumb away from your palm.
On the other hand (no pun intended!), weakness causes your thumb to collapse. This makes it hard to twist off a lid, turn on a faucet or pinch buds in the garden.
If you're experiencing limitations in everyday movement, it's probably time to seek expert help.
A therapy program that treats the full spectrum of your symptoms can move you from saying, “Nothing can be done,” to saying, “How come I never knew therapy could be so helpful?”
Hand therapists are specially-trained in treating conditions of the upper limb. This includes the hand and thumb.
This advanced training makes therapists great partners in helping reduce your pain and restore lost function.
What can I expect in working with a hand therapist?
Your first therapy appointment will begin with a thorough evaluation of your hand and abilities.
With that evaluation, you therapist can help you see what's triggering your symptoms and coming up with a treatment plan. The plan will be unique to you and your specific issues.
Thumb arthritis is different for each person, and your treatment plan will reflect that.
Treatments and techniques can include:
- Retraining your muscles to provide stability when you pinch
- Hands-on techniques to improve motion and reduce pain
- Changing how you do what you do – modifying behavior
This last one can be one of the more challenging aspects of managing your OA. But it’s critical in reducing stress on your involved joints.
Everything you and your therapist do has the goal of getting back as much natural range of motion as possible.
Therapy for thumb OA is designed to help you “work smarter, not harder.”
Therapists may introduce adaptive equipment or assistive devices into your care as well.
While those words may sound a bit "techy," the items themselves are quite simple but can lend a helping hand (again with the puns!) with your day-to-day tasks.
Some everyday items to make things easier include:
- Using a wider pen for easier gripping
- Using a jar opener instead of your hands
- Using a coffee mug with a wide handle so all four fingers fit under the handle.
I’ve found that changing the tools used for gardening helps protect my joints but still lets me enjoy digging in the dirt.
Spring handled shears reduce stress on the hand.
Ergonomic gardening tools reduce stress on larger joints.
You may benefit, too, from the short-term use of orthoses (braces or splints) in treating your thumb arthritis. This will keep the thumb in a neutral position and ease pressure on the joint while doing tasks that may trigger pain or discomfort.
Structurally, the thumb is designed like a column and under pressure if the muscles are not strong your thumb will “collapse."
A collapsing thumb reduces the strength to do pinching movements.
Just as we learn to use our core muscles when lifting, we can re-learn how to use muscles that stabilize the thumb column to perform grip and pinch motions.
Thumb collapse during pinch due to weakness and too much joint mobility.
Motor retraining can help correct the collapse.
Relearning how to use your muscles results in a stable strong pinch.
As you progress in therapy you will relearn how to use your muscles in a stable way.
The more you know, the faster you can dismiss the myth that there's nothing to be done about treating OA.
Admittedly, I initially thought this 15 years ago when I developed early signs of thumb arthritis.
Thankfully, we stand on the shoulders of giants who have done research to show the effectiveness of therapy.
I now use joint protection strategies and adaptive equipment. I use my “feel good” exercises when needed and my brace regularly. It has allowed me to continue the things in life I so love – cooking, gardening, mountain biking and working as a hand therapist.
Arthritis is a common condition.
While it's not preventable, you can take steps to help protect your joints to reduce the risk of further injury and discomfort.
Take a quick assessment of the following:
- Change in the appearance of your thumbs
- Pain or aching at base of thumb
- Loss of motion, stiffness or weakness while doing activities, especially when you pinch
If you notice a change in any of these, know that there is treatment to help you.
Talk with your doctor or click the blue button above to request a consultation with one of our therapists. Ask about our arthritis program and get started with your personalized treatment plan.
Article courtesy of Molly Hudson, O.T., CHT, COMT-UE, Hand Therapy Program Coordinator Houston, TX.
Posted on: 9/20/2022
How to easily fix bad habits and ace backpack injuries prevention
If you're old enough to remember book bags, you know they've long been replaced by backpacks.
From the littles to the not-so, each category of kid wears their backpack like another piece of clothing. Color, creativity and the right amount of cool factor all go into making the choice, whether for school, sports or sleepovers.
But that choice can also create risks to kids' health and safety, if not done with some thought.
Things to keep in mind:
- The width of the pack should be about the same as the wearer.
- Length should be no longer than the torso (central part of the body) and not hang more than four inches below the waist.
- The weight of what gets loaded into backpacks increases as books, sports equipment and the number and types of electronic devices increase.
If you've seen your child twist and contort as they hoist or sling a backpack over their shoulder racing out the door, the following shouldn't surprise you.
Each year, an estimated 14,000 children need treatment for backpack-related injuries... while from 2019-2020 an estimated 1,200 kids ended up in the ER for the same.
Here's where that statistic gets interesting and why backpack safety is so important.
There’s growing awareness on this topic over the last few years that’s making a positive impact. The result is that numbers for backpack ER visits have gone down.
From the same source noted above, in 2013 the annual average for kids under 19 being seen in the ER was 5,000.
Going from 5,000 to 1,200 is a big deal (cue happy dance music!).
So, let’s keep it going.
Here's a basic three-step guide to follow for any age backpack wearer. Watch our video for a quick summary to see it in action. Then see the steps below for more information.
Since the objective is to keep the backpack light, choose one that has sturdy compartments but is lightweight.
As you load, distribute by weight, the right way. Put heavy items on the bottom and in the rear compartment (the side that will be against the back) and lighter items in the front compartment. This helps keep weight off the shoulders.
Like unloading luggage after a road trip, proper lifting is key to backpack safety.
Bend at the knees before lifting -- both knees. Then grab the pack with both hands before lifting it to the shoulders.
Once lifted, both straps should be worn. No single-shoulder slinging!
Using just one strap causes a lean to the side and may cause the spine to curve.
Check the bag as your child grows, especially for those in growth spurts.
Whatever your child's age or size, teach them how to wear a backpack correctly and to know their carry limit.
A loaded backpack should not be more than 10-15% of their body weight. For example, if a child weighs 50 pounds, the backpack should not weigh more than 7.5 pounds.
These tips can help fix bad habits and prevent backpack injuries. But if your child has shoulder soreness, pain or tingling in arms, hands or fingers, we can help. Physical therapy can help strengthen muscles used for lifting and carrying and relieve symptoms.
Click the blue "Request an appointment" button. Most states do not require a doctor's prescription for physical therapy.
For a deeper dive into backpack safety, other considerations when choosing a backpack and creating a "shoulder shadow," check out these safety tips by Anne Marie Muto, OTR/L, CHT.
Posted on 9/16/2022
Why they happen and what to do about it
Compared to many sports, baseball is known for its slower pace and long duration.
Despite the less than hard-hitting action of a football game, baseball can place a lot of strain on the body.
And although typically a low-intensity sport, the repetitive movement in playing baseball can lead to annoying at best and critical at worst overuse injuries.
These days an MLB pitcher, for example, throws about 95 pitches per game. In comparison, an official Little League pitch count for ages 9-10 is 75 pitches.
That’s a lot of pitches in a year!
Position players, too, get their share of high volume throwing, plus hitting and base running. Game after game, this adds up to lots of repetition.
So, despite its slower pace, baseball takes a toll on the body – upper and lower body.
Let's take a look at some of the most common baseball injuries due to overuse.
Rotator cuff tears
Rotator cuff tears are prevalent in baseball, especially with players who do a lot of high-speed throwing, like pitchers.
The rotator cuff is made up of four muscles that work together to help rotate your shoulder and arm away from and toward the body. Think of a hinge. The cuff is the part that sits at the top of the shoulder.
The act of pitching over and over, game after game, season after season can wear down the tendons that attach the muscles. This leads to a breakdown in the shoulder's movement, which can lead to muscle tearing.
If diagnosed before a tear, this injury can be helped with physical therapy. But if the muscle is fully torn, surgery will likely be needed.
There's a ligament on the inside of the elbow called the ulnar collateral ligament, UCL for short. This is a stabilizing ligament and the one most commonly injured of the various elbow ligaments.
Known in sports circles as the Tommy John ligament, this little ligament can take a beating with the stress that throwing places on it. And there’s an alarming number of young athletes we’re treating for UCL injuries.
Inner elbow pain is one of the tell-tale symptoms that something's not right. It may have a "pins and needles" type of feeling in the ring and pinky fingers, which can impact an athlete's grip on the ball.
Most cases can be fixed with rest and physical therapy.
However, full and partial tears of the UCL may require reconstructive surgery (Tommy John Surgery), as for pitching namesake Tommy John.
This is another injury that impacts the shoulder.
The labrum is a rubbery, flexible tissue that helps keep the shoulder socket tight. Picture a gasket that seals the space between two adjoining items. But because it is a soft tissue, it can tear.
In baseball, this type of tear can be caused by the overuse with repeated motion. This injury typically presents with the shoulder joint locking up or weakness of the shoulder.
A labral tear is typically confirmed by a doctor. Depending on severity, it can be either repaired surgically or helped with professional physical therapy and time off the field to recover.
Although less common than with higher-intensity sports, like basketball and football, knee injuries are part of baseball.
They happen most with base running. The sudden stopping, sliding and quick pivots in direction can cause a player's knee to give out.
Sprains and tears of the ligaments supporting the knee are painful.
One of the most devastating lower body injuries is an ACL tear. Injury to this ligament typically happens with sudden, excruciating pain and the sensation of popping or cracking in the knee.
Similar to UCL injuries, an ACL injury can sometimes be healed with specialized physical therapy and rest. But in cases of a fully torn ACL, surgery will likely sideline play for a few months.
Muscle sprains and strains
Like the other baseball injuries we've covered here, muscle sprains and strains are a biggie.
These types of injuries are common in the legs, arms and back.
Symptoms will vary based on the player and the seriousness of the injury, but typical symptoms include:
- muscle spasms
They may also include bruising and swelling.
It's rare for these to require surgery. Professional physical therapy and the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, elevation) are effective.
With sports injuries like we've covered here, a common theme is that working with a physical therapist can help with healing.
Physical therapy can also help with pre- and post-surgical intervention if necessary.
If you have an injury, you can get an injury screening at one of our centers. A personalized treatment and exercise plan with a licensed physical therapist will help get you back to your sport. Click the Contact Us button below to find a location and request an appointment.