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Exploring Types of Physical Therapy and How They Can Help You

By Carolyn Heneghan June 08, 2017 Posted in: Family Health , Article

When you hear the term "physical therapy," you likely imagine treatments for recovering from an injury or improving mobility as you age. But many types of physical therapy exist to treat a wide range of conditions. Check out some of these different therapy options and how they can help you or your loved ones return to a more pain-free lifestyle.

What Physical Therapy Does

In general, physical therapy offers a number of benefits for people of any age who are suffering from a variety of conditions. According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), these benefits include the maximization of movement, especially when dealing with pain, active and collaborative participation in recovery, avoidance of opioids and their risks and side effects, and the avoidance of invasive surgery and the expense it could include.

These benefits are widely applicable to the conditions for which a doctor might recommend physical therapy. Pain-free movement is critical to an individual's quality of life and serves as an alternative to many medications and more invasive or costly procedures. Therefore, the benefits of physical therapy align with many patients' demands for more natural, holistic care.

What Physical Therapy Can Treat

The APTA outlines nearly 150 symptoms and conditions across a range of categories that doctors may use physical therapy to treat. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Cardiopulmonary disease: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, post-myocardial infarction (heart attack)
  • Hand conditions: arthritis, carpal tunnel, trigger finger
  • Musculoskeletal pain and injuries: back pain, rotator cuff tear, TMJ disorders
  • Neurological disorders and injuries: stroke, spinal cord injury, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, vestibular dysfunction, traumatic brain injury
  • Pediatrics: developmental delays, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy
  • Oncology/cancer-related problems
  • Sports injuries such as a concussion or tennis elbow
  • Lymphedema
  • Women's health: interstitial cystitis
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Wound care
  • Burns
  • Diabetic ulcers

This is only a short list of conditions for which your doctor may recommend physical therapy, but the underlying commonality is often physical pain and discomfort or difficulty with movement or physical development.

Types of Physical Therapy and Equipment

Depending on the condition, the individual, and his or her treatment goals, physical therapy can take a variety of forms, using equipment in addition to hands-on methods. Physical therapy can include a deep tissue massage, skin rolling, trigger-point therapy, nerve release, joint mobilization, stretching, and specialized and endurance exercises. Patients undergoing physical therapy may also utilize different types of equipment during their treatment sessions, such as weights, exercise machines, bands, rollers, balance balls, heat and cold packs, electrical stimulation devices, low-intensity cold lasers, ultrasound, and biofeedback via electrodes placed on the body.

The types of equipment or therapies you or your loved one can expect will vary depending on the condition being treated and your age and abilities. But having an idea of what to expect from physical therapy can relieve some of the hesitation or confusion that might surround your decision about whether to pursue this type of treatment.

While many types of physical therapy are available, the end goal remains the same: less painful, if not completely pain-free, movement. Talk to your doctor if you're curious about how physical therapy might benefit you or a loved one, especially if either of you are suffering from physical pain caused by movement. Physical therapy could drastically improve your quality of life by alleviating that pain, providing a way for you to take a more proactive role in your recovery and helping you avoid more costly or risky therapies.

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