You have probably heard of the profession of physical therapy. Maybe you have had a conversation with a friend about how physical therapy helped them recover after an injury or surgery. You might even have been treated by a physical therapist yourself.
Many people are familiar with physical therapists’ work helping patients with orthopedic problems, such as rehabilitating from knee surgeries, in order to reduce pain and regain function. Others may be aware of the treatment that physical therapists provide to assist patients recovering from a stroke (e.g., assisting them with recovering use of their limbs and walking again). However, physical therapists can – and do, for many – play a significant part in helping people maintain the active lifestyles they enjoy.
Maintaining performance at work, taking care of our families, enjoying recreational activity, and sharing important occasions with loved ones are all valuable components of healthy living. When these cherished aspects of life are threatened by injury, surgery or natural aging, physical therapy helps restore what has been lost.
Because physical therapists are experts in healthy movement and function, they are not confined to only treating people after surgery or severe dysfunction. A large part of a physical therapist’s role is directed at preventing injury, loss of movement, and even surgery through early conservative care. For example, physical therapists can consult to improve the design of the workplace, in order to reduce the risk of overusing certain muscles or developing low back pain while working. They also provide services to recreational athletes, such as golfers or tennis players, to screen for potential problems and institute preventive exercise programs. Or, oftentimes, they address issues with gait and balance in order to prevent falls that can result in severe complications and permanent limitations.
The cornerstones of physical therapy are manual (“hands-on”) intervention, therapeutic exercises and functional movement training. In its best moments, physical therapy relieves pain, restores motion and then increases strength to make that movement meaningful in real world situations. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, a good physical therapist educates – enabling patients to own their success and maintain it for years to come.