Physical therapists assess and treat a variety of physical and movement difficulties. According to the American Physical Therapy Association, concerns with pain, muscle strength, balance problems, movement limitations, or trouble walking might be helped by physical therapy. Working with medical teams, physical therapists develop treatment plans to help patients gain or recover physical function, manage and prevent ongoing health conditions, and reduce pain. Often, treatments may involve developing exercise programs to maintain and improve function. When needed, physical therapists also help with selection and use of adaptive equipment such as a walker, shower chair, or wheelchair.
Candidates for Physical Therapy
Physical therapists work with a variety of patients of all ages, including new babies, children, adults, and older adults. There are many different reasons people in these age groups may need to see a physical therapist. Congenital issues, developmental delays, disease processes, injuries, and typical aging are all reasons a person may be referred for physical therapy. A physician can help a patient determine when physical therapy assessment and treatment is indicated and can provide a referral to an appropriate treatment facility.
A baby may need physical therapy due to concerns with prematurity, atypical early development, neurological conditions such as brain injury, or congenital disorders such as spina bifida, cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy. Treatment plans for infants are family centered and incorporate home carryover goals.
Children may need physical therapy due to delays in physical skills, presence of developmental disorders such as autism, ongoing medical or neurological conditions, or recovery from surgeries or injuries such as spinal cord injury, head injury, or broken bones. School age children may need the help of a physical therapist to access and participate in the school environment. Family involvement in a child’s physical therapy plan is important for generalization of skills and carryover of practice in the home environment.
Adults may seek physical therapy services for ongoing medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, or developmental disorders. New concerns related to events such as stroke, spinal cord injury, fractures, or pain management often result in physical therapy referrals. Healthy adults may seek input from a physical therapist for issues related proper workplace ergonomics or discomforts associated with pregnancy.
As people age, they may experience changes in mobility, flexibility, balance, and strength. Reduced participation, falls, and generalized weakness are common concerns that accompany aging and are helped by a physical therapist. Physical therapists work with older adults to improve skills and maximize function in daily activities. Patients with progressive diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or cancer may also experience changes which benefit from physical therapy.
What Happens During a Physical Therapy Sessions
Physical therapists employ a wide variety of treatment techniques depending on a patient’s needs. Examples of treatments for common visit goals such as pain management, help walking and equipment selection are described below.
Physical therapists help with teaching active strategies for pain management. This might include behavioral strategies such as adjusting habits and routines, or using exercises, joint manipulation, or massage to reduce pain.
Physical therapists use a variety of techniques and equipment to assist people with standing and moving around. Patients may need help with improving their patterns of walking or with getting and staying upright. In addition to helping with mobility, weight bearing exercise such as standing and walking has positive effects for bone density and soft tissue. Even patients who are unable to stand or walk can benefit from activities which require the legs to bear weight. Physical therapists can use techniques and equipment to assist people with standing, bearing weight through legs, and walking with assistance.
Physical therapists select and recommend adaptive equipment to help people participate in activities of daily living. They measure for equipment, trial different options, and order specific devices designed to help a person maximize function. Examples of equipment that may be considered based on patient needs includes shower chairs, corner chairs, standers, walkers, wheelchairs, transfer boards, and adaptive toileting equipment.