National Physical Therapy Month
Do you have chronic pain, or are you recovering from an injury? One of the safest and most holistic methods for relieving pain and improving mobility is to work with a trained physical therapist.
October is National Physical Therapy Month—a time to raise awareness about the benefits of physical therapy and the important role that physical therapists play in injury or pain recovery.
In honor of National Physical Therapy Month, we’re shedding light on how physical therapy can improve your functional movements and help you live with less pain.
How Does Physical Therapy Help?
The primary goals of physical therapy are to build strength and increase your range of motion so that you can improve your mobility and preserve your physical health. Physical therapy provides additional benefits like pain-relief, injury-prevention and a long-term solution to avoid surgery.
In fact, avoiding surgery is one important reason to undergo physical therapy for injuries or spinal disorders. A 2015 study found that both surgery and physical therapy produced similar results in managing pain and improving physical function in patients with lumbar spinal stenosis.
Experts suggest that because surgery always carries a risk of complications, undergoing a physical therapy program for lumbar spinal stenosis may be a way to provide similar benefits as surgery but with significantly less risk.
In addition to being an alternative to surgery, here are some of the other key ways physical therapy can help:
A physical therapist works with you to increase and optimize your functional movements.
Injuries or tight joints and muscles limit our range of motion, preventing us from experiencing full mobility. Limited mobility is often a source of everyday aches and pains and can put you at risk of reinjury or falls. A physical therapist will get you to perform exercises that increase your range of motion so you can move more freely and prevent added stress on your body.
Build Strength and Coordination
Depending on your recovery plan, a physical therapist may get you to perform various strength-building exercises with bodyweight, free weights or weight machines.
Building muscle strength helps take the pressure of your tissues, joints and bones, which can wear out over time from too much stress. Strength training also builds your body awareness. As you become more familiar with your body, you’ll enhance your balance and coordination, which also helps prevent injuries and falls.
Recovery From Injury and Disease
Physical therapists also help people who have suffered a particular injury, either from trauma or sports. They also work with people with diseases or conditions like stroke, arthritis and other mobility-limiting issues to improve their daily lives and regain functionality in their muscles and joints.
One of the most common reasons people get referred to a physical therapist is because of chronic pain within the musculoskeletal system—muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones and joints. This pain can be caused by injury, repetitive motions or structural issues stemming from poor alignment and posture.
Physical therapists help restore functional movement and provide solutions to change your day-to-day physical behaviors. These interventions can, over time, alleviate pressure and tension on the muscles, tissues and nerves, which limits or stops chronic pain.
Who Is Physical Therapy for?
Virtually anyone may benefit from physical therapy, but there are certain groups of people who will get a lot out of working with a physical therapist.
Physical therapy may be for you if you’re an aging adult, an athlete, have an injury or a particular disease diagnosis, or if you’re just looking to optimize your physical health. Physical therapists also specialize in certain conditions, which require specific therapeutic interventions.
Older adults who are noticing a decline in their mobility and strength can work with a physical therapist to improve their stability and range of motion. This can help reduce their risk of falls, strains and sprains.
Athletes and Bodybuilders
Athletes and bodybuilders can also benefit from physical therapy. A physical therapist will help you learn what types of exercises you can do to improve your athleticism and strength. This is especially true if you’ve suffered an injury or experience joint pain with particular movements, such as squatting, bending or lifting.
Injury and Disease
After an injury, like repetitive motion injuries and whiplash, a physical therapist is an excellent resource to rehabilitate and correct any functional issues. They also help with diseases and conditions that affect movement, like stroke, MS and arthritis. Even pulmonary or cardiovascular conditions can be improved with physical therapy.
Physical therapy is also an option for anyone wanting to learn more about their body and physical health. If you notice recurring pain in your back, neck, shoulders, hips, knees or anywhere else, you may have an abnormality within your musculoskeletal system that a physical therapist can identify.
Often, this may be caused by poor posture habits, which have impacted the structure of your musculoskeletal system. A physical therapist can give you exercises and solutions to correct these habits over time.
There are countless types of physical therapy, and many therapists specialize in certain conditions or aspects of rehabilitation. Whether it’s sports, geriatric or any other specialized need, there’s likely an experienced physical therapist who can help.
What to Expect During Physical Therapy
When you work with a physical therapist—whether at a private practice, an outpatient clinic or a hospital—they will thoroughly assess your mobility and movement patterns.
Physical therapists look for things like:
- Your posture, balance and coordination
- Whether you favor one side of the body over another
- Any structural differences between either side of the body
- Any struggles or challenges you have performing functional movements and tasks
- Lung and heart health while performing certain activities
Based on their assessment, the physical therapist will diagnose your condition and develop a plan that’s tailored to these issues. A plan typically involves a combination of exercises to perform in sessions with the therapist as well as others you can do at home.
Physical therapy is a slow and gradual process. In many cases, the aim is to undo years of compounded structural issues that your body has become used to. Rehabilitation takes time, but the process is worth it. Not only will it improve your quality of life now, but it can also promote long-term healthy aging.
Physical Therapy Support at Home
A significant part of working with a physical therapist is the self-management activities they'll ask you to do on your own. Continuing your rehabilitation as part of your daily life helps speed up your recovery time and improve results.
To support the progress you’re making in physical therapy, you may be asked to try these approaches to managing pain, improving mobility and promoting better alignment.
Stretching is an important practice for loosening up tight muscles and connective tissues to alleviate pressure and improve range of motion. Depending on the nature of your rehabilitation, your physical therapist may give you a basic stretch routine to follow at home once or twice a day.
For extra support and spinal safety as you stretch, Relax The Back offers a variety of stretching devices that gently assist your body in naturally lengthening tight areas, such as the lumbar spine, back, shoulders and hips.
Options include the CoreStretch and the Fitspine Inversion Table by Teeter to help decompress weight-bearing joints and discs and promote better alignment. Be sure to get the go-ahead from your physical therapist before incorporating stretching into your at-home practice.
Regular self-massage can help loosen up tight connective tissues and tense muscles. The more relaxed you can make your tissues and muscles, the more your circulation will improve. It also alleviates strain and pressure on your structural points—spinal discs, joints, cartilage and bones, which can only take so much pressure.
To properly massage those hard-to-reach places, like between your shoulder blades, try the Theracane. A handheld massager, the TheraCane gives you control over the pressure you apply to sore and stiff spots throughout your body.
Many physical therapists will recommend hot/cold therapy to their patients. Hot/cold therapy helps to reduce inflammation and ease stiffness temporarily. It may be especially beneficial for people with arthritis or those recovering from sports or repetitive motion injuries, such as tendonitis.
By applying hot or cold compresses, you can loosen up joints and relieve pain enough to allow for better mobility and range of motion. Relax The Back offers cold therapy options like ProtoCold Reusable Cold Therapy Pads and heat therapy options like MediBeds Moist Heat Pad.
Cushions, Supports and Wraps
Part of physical rehabilitation is the need to adapt your environment so that it’s conducive to recovery. Your physical therapist may recommend the use of ergonomic supports and cushions that help you in your daily life.
Cushions for work, home, or traveling can help alleviate pressure points from your spine and keep you in a more aligned position. Relax The Back has many ergonomic back cushions to support your spinal alignment while seated.
With injury recovery, you may need the help of a wrap or brace to support your knee, elbow, shoulder or spine.
View more ergonomic supports available at Relax The Back.
If you’re recovering from an injury or suffer from back, neck or shoulder pain, physical therapy may be a holistic solution to help restore your mobility and quality of life. With help from ergonomic and spinal health supports, you’ll recover faster and live with less pain.