Why is Physical Therapy Important?
If your health care provider recommends physical therapy, you may ask, “Why is physical therapy important?” Depending on your medical diagnosis, physical therapy can be important for 3 main reasons:
- Education. Learn details of your medical diagnosis and what you can do in physical therapy to improve your health.
- Functional restoration. Learn exercises, movements, stretches and endurance exercise that can help you enjoy life.
- Pain reduction. Physical therapy is a non-invasive, effective treatment for chronic pain, including spine pain and fibromyalgia (Clinical Journal of Pain 2013; Journal of Orthopedic Sports Physical Therapy 2016).
Physical therapy comes in many forms. For example, orthopedic physical therapy focuses on health problems related to bones and muscles (e.g., shoulder pain, knee pain, fractures); cardiopulmonary physical therapy focuses on problems related to heart, lungs and peripheral vessels (e.g., cardiac rehabilitation after heart attack, congestive heart failure) and neurological physical therapy focuses on problems related to the nervous system (e.g., Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis).
Along with different specialties, physical therapists also differ in treatment approaches. For example, some physical therapists emphasize a more active approach where most of your treatment focuses on teaching you how to safely and effectively strengthen, stretch and perform endurance exercise. This approach is most effective on chronic health problems, such as back pain, shoulder pain, hip pain, knee pain, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and fibromyalgia (European Spine Journal 2013; Journal of Physiotherapy 2015). If you have a chronic health problem, we urge you to choose a physical therapist with additional post-graduate school training in exercise prescription, as physical therapy schools currently do not have standardized training in this area (Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice 2009). In other words, expertise in exercise prescription can be attained only through self-study outside of physical therapy school.
Given this, all physical therapists at c.h. Physical TherapySM are required to complete our in-house, post-doctoral training program in exercise prescription to facilitate consistent, high quality care at all six locations.
While physical therapy can be important in helping you recover, it’s crucial that you understand the type of physical therapy you’ll be getting before committing. If you have a chronic condition, it’s doubtful that physical therapy emphasizing passive treatments (i.e., manual therapy, ultrasound, massage, manipulation) will be helpful long term because passive care does not address the cause of health problems (Spine 2004, 2008, 2010; Journal of Physiotherapy 2015).
Further, we also recommend that you see the same physical therapist at each appointment. All too often, patients of physical therapy see a different provider at each session, disrupting continuity of care and wasting valuable time as the new physical therapist at each session must first clarify your program to proceed safely.
One final reason physical therapy can be important is that it will teach you how to effectively cope with your condition. For example, if it hurts to stand but feels good to sit, your program will be based on this information and how to create a “safety zone” for your spine so that you can control pain more effectively during exercise. In other words, you need to figure out why your back is hurting instead of simply covering up symptoms with pain medication. Based on research and our experience, it’s usually due to treatable things like weakness, stiffness, poor coordination and/or lack of physical movement (Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 2008, 2009, 2013; Primary Care Journal 2014).
Take control of your health and move in the right direction!