Physical therapy helps people to help themselves. It aims to restore movement and function, relieve pain, and prevent further injury. It treats people with musculoskeletal disorders such as back and neck strains or knee injuries; neurological deficits such as stroke patients or cerebral palsy children, and skin disorders such as wounds, burns or diabetic foot ulcers.
Physical therapy usually takes place in hospitals, schools, in the home, and in nursing homes. By teaching people about their body, their disorder and their health, it helps them lead more active and independent lives.
A physical therapist will perform an evaluation of the patient's problem or difficulty. This includes taking a history of a problem and then evaluating it by performing tests and measurements. These tests include muscle strength tests, joint motion tests, sensory and neurological tests, coordination tests, balance tests, observation, palpation, flexibility tests, postural screening, movement analysis, and special tests designed for a particular problem.
The physical therapist will then develop a treatment plan and goals and then administer the appropriate treatment to aid in recovery of a problem or dysfunction. Treatment includes patient education to teach them how deal with a current problem and how to prevent this problem from recurring in the future. It provides "hands on techniques" such as massage or joint mobilization skills to restore joint motion or increase soft tissue flexibility. It aids in postural reconstruction and movement awareness. Therapeutic exercise instructions will help restore strength, movement, balance or coordination as a guide towards full functional recovery. It can include the teaching (re-learning) of basic mobility skills such as simply moving and get out of bed, transferring to a chair, walking with crutches or special devices on stairs or varied terrain.
Physical therapy often involves the use of modalities which include properties of heat, cold, air, light, water, electricity, ultrasound and traction. These modalities are used to help decrease pain and increase movement and function. Examples include: hot packs, cold packs, whirlpools, TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation), ultrasound, traction, electrical stimulation, intermittent compression pumps and myofascial release.
A physical therapist will monitor progress, consult with other health professionals and adjust treatments and treatment goals as appropriate.
Physiotherapy can speed up the healing process and reduce the risk of recurrence. Joint manipulation, stretching, and strengthening exercises directed at the dysfunctional upper thoracic segments are used with good results.
The most successful techniques are manipulation, mobilization and neuromuscular re-education; other techniques include soft tissue massage, postural taping or bracing, activity and posture modification, use of a lumbar support, hydrotherapy, cold applications (ice), electrical stimulation, and specific exercises such as shoulder blade squeezes and chin tucks.
Physical therapy is suggested by some, but has questionable effectiveness.
Most patients, after an early hospital stay and when medically stable, are candidates for a rehabilitation program to help learn optimal use of muscles as nerve supply returns.
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