Physical therapy helps patients with injuries and chronic health conditions regain their range of motion, manage their pain, and improve their quality of life. For instance, if a patient needs help managing lower back pain or is recovering from an ACL tear, they would go to a physical therapist (PT). PTs also play a critical role in treating musculoskeletal conditions and educating patients about staying fit and preventing future injuries. In honor of National Physical Therapy Month in October, it's important to understand the vital role physical therapy plays in today's healthcare climate.
"Physical therapy is more important than ever, especially for those impacted by COVID-19," says Dr. Thomas Werner, Associate Professor and Program Director for the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences' (USAHS) Dallas Campus. "During lengthy hospital stays, like those occurring during the pandemic, the risk of physical decline is high. Months after contracting the novel coronavirus, many patients may require physical therapy treatment. For those who've been on ventilators for weeks and sometimes months, the ability to swallow, hold up their heads or sit up is a big task. When such patients can breathe independently, therapy may begin with small movements like rolling over and performing arm and leg exercises while sitting at the end of the bed. Then, patients may work on moving from the bed to a chair and eventually walking."
Disruptions caused by COVID-19 may lead to more time indoors, which may mean spending long periods of time on the couch, in bed, or in a chair. As a result, many people may be experiencing more aches and pains that come with living a more sedentary lifestyle and spending more time in front of a TV or computer screen. However, physical therapy can help restore the body's function and movement while also promoting healing and pain relief. Physical therapy helps patients of all ages with medical conditions, illnesses, or injuries that limit their abilities to function normally. It also helps encourage an active and healthy lifestyle to maintain overall physical and emotional well-being.
Physical therapy can specifically help people who suffer from the following:
- Athletic injuries
- Work-related injuries
- Sudden and longstanding back and neck pain
- Sprains, strains, and other orthopedic-related issues
- Neurological problems, including certain stroke-related disabilities, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson's disease
- Chronic pain
Physical therapy treatment may vary for each person, but treatment usually involves exercises and special movements of the joints, muscles, and the entire body. Physical therapists may incorporate canes, walkers, crutches or other medical equipment into their treatment plans. Hands-on therapy techniques may also be used, which might occur in a hospital, an outpatient clinic or different settings. A physical therapist will design a specific treatment plan for each patient. He or she also may work with other healthcare professionals including doctors and surgeons to develop treatment that is best suited to the patient's specific needs.
The benefits of physical therapy vary based on the patient's specific condition and goals. For instance, it can help people:
- Manage pain without using opioid medications.
- Avoid surgery. For example, people with joint problems often try PT first before considering surgery.
- Recover after an injury or surgery, as a key element of a rehabilitation program prescribed after such an event.
- Regain some lost abilities for those who have survived a stroke, spinal cord injury, or any of the various neuromuscular disorders such as multiple sclerosis, myositis, neuropathy.
"Now is the time to make your physical health a priority," says Dr. Tony Domenech, Associate Professor and Program Director for the DPT program at the USAHS campus in Austin, TX. "As we continue to learn how to navigate the changes brought on by COVID-19 around the world, it is important to stay active, eat healthily and get plenty of rest."