What Is Physical Therapy? Purpose, Treatment and Proactive Benefit
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.