Physical therapy is designed to manage pain and facilitate recovery after a serious injury, illness or surgery. The purpose of physical therapy is to help each patient restore their maximal level of independence. Physical therapy helps you move better, relieves pain, and speeds your recovery after injury or surgery. Physical therapy is an individualized program designed specifically for you and is often comprised of various modalities including: heat, ice, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, exercise programs and hands-on techniques such as manipulation and massage. Physical therapy may also include therapeutic exercise, functional training, manual therapy techniques, assistive and adaptive devices, equipment, physical agents, and electrotherapeutic modalities.
Your physical therapist will examine you and develop an individualized treatment plan. Your physical therapist will first manage the pain and swelling related to your injury or surgery. Then, your therapist will work with you to increase your flexibility, strength, coordination, endurance and/or balance.
Physical therapy may be recommended for patients suffering from the following conditions:
- Back and neck pain
- Spine and joint conditions
- Sports related injuries
- Neurological conditions
Physical therapists treat patients with devastating conditions as well, and recommend effective strategies for managing even the most complex physical complications.
Some of the common modalities employed by physical therapists include:
Traction: This is applied to the neck and low back to relieve pain. It provides a gentle stretch, or traction, to create a negative pressure in the intervertebral disc, which then relieves the pressure on the spinal nerve within the neural foramen. It is used to relieve chronic back and neck pain secondary to spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, herniated disc and sciatica.
Massage: This can be performed by the therapist’s hands or with special massage tools to rub or stroke the painful area. Massage increases blood flow to the area, delivering more oxygen and nutrients as well as promoting healing by improving transport of waste products from the cells. Massage is effective in reducing spasms, pain and stiffness in the muscles of the spine and neck.
Myofascial release: is a special type of massage designed to relax tense muscles and fascia, which is the soft tissue covering muscles and bones. Poor posture or damage can lead to tightening of the fascia causing pain and stiffness.
Heat and cold therapy: Cold packs are applied to an injured site in the first 48 hours after injury, followed by hot packs to relieve pain. Cold therapy slows the blood circulation and reduces swelling whereas heat therapy increases the blood flow and improves the supply of oxygen and nutrients as well as the removal of waste products from cells. Moist heat is used to relieve pain due to muscle spasm and strain.
Ultrasound: Ultrasound therapy delivers heat to deeper tissues in the form of ultrasound waves, transmitted through a probe, as topical hot packs are not as effective in delivering heat to these deeper tissues. Heating improves the blood flow and facilitates repair of the affected area.
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) therapy: A special device is placed on the skin over the area of the pain as a surface patch. The TENS unit transmits low voltage electrical impulses that block the transmission of pain signals to the brain. It may also relive pain by the stimulation of endorphins production (natural pain killers) in the body.
Braces: These provide extra support to the injured region and promote healing by restriction of motion.
Click on the topics below to find out more from the Orthopaedic connection website of American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.