Experts predict the physical therapy profession will grow by 21% between 2020 and 2030. These projections are faster than many other professions and will create over 15,000 job openings annually.
You have likely heard of physical therapy, but do you know what it can treat and why it’s beneficial? Physical therapy uses exercise as a basis for rehabilitation, but it extends beyond that.
They also work closely with other allied health professionals and care providers to encompass overall health and wellness. Are you interested in learning more?
We have put together a complete guide on everything you need to know about physical therapy, so keep reading for more information!
What Is Physical Therapy?
Physical therapy is part of the medical field, focused on providing natural and sometimes holistic treatments to aid in the rehabilitation process. Physical therapy plays a key role in injury prevention, chronic disease management, and post-surgical care.
Recently, pre-habilitation has become more popular and used as a tool to help patients avoid costly hospital stays after surgery and live healthier, more wholesome lives. Other reasons you may need physical therapy are:
- Chronic pain
- Sports injuries
- Lifestyle management (e.g., weight loss, diabetes)
- Cardiopulmonary conditions (e.g., heart disease, COPD)
- Musculoskeletal conditions (e.g., fractures, sprains, strains)
- Pediatric conditions (e.g., cerebral palsy)
- Female or pelvic floor health (e.g., urinary incontinence)
- Wound care
- And more
The physical therapy field is vast and encompasses every age group, from infants to the elderly. There are no shortages of where physical therapy is found. You can locate clinics and professionals in:
- Skilled nursing facilities
- Inpatient facilities
- Outpatient clinics
- Work settings
- In-home care
Physical therapy is an excellent choice if you want a safe, non-invasive, and healthy way to start your recovery process!
What Is a Physical Therapist?
There are three main components in the physical therapy profession, including physical therapists, physical therapist assistants, and rehab aides. Physical therapists require the most intensive schooling and have a Doctorate in Physical Therapy (DPT).
They are licensed professionals who can diagnose, treat, and assess various illnesses, diseases, and injuries. They work closely in a comprehensive care team, including physicians, naturopathic providers, and other allied health professionals. Some other key aspects physical therapists are trained in include:
- Reviewing medical history
- Developing individual care plans
- Diagnosing functional impairments
- Using rehabilitative techniques (e.g., manual therapy, exercises, modalities, etc.)
- Evaluate progress
- Modify interventions
- Educate patients and families
Physical therapists (PTs) work closely with their companions – physical therapist assistants (PTAs). PTAs have similar training with less schooling. They must obtain a degree and licensure in their state and are highly skilled professionals.
The best way of picturing a PTA is how a physician assistant works under a medical doctor. PTAs utilize the plan of care implemented by the PT and work directly with patients. Not every clinic has PTAs, but they are a core component in the physical therapy field.
Lastly, rehab aides do not require a degree or licensure. They are often trained at the clinic and assist the PTs and PTAs. Some rehab aide duties might include cleaning the gym, setting up equipment, or scheduling appointments.
Physical Therapists vs. Chiropractors
Often seen as competitors, physical therapists and chiropractors actually share many similarities. For starters, they both specialize in non-surgical and natural treatments. Chiropractors complete different schooling and obtain individual licensures.
However, chiropractors also specialize in musculoskeletal conditions. They primarily focus on realignment techniques through:
- Manual therapy
Their approaches are often holistically centered. For example, chiropractors also specialize in:
- Allergy management
- Headaches and migraines
Techniques emphasize optimal alignment for whole-body wellness and central nervous system functioning. Proper spinal alignment affects how you smell, hear, walk, breathe, and much more.
Both healthcare professionals may use modalities, exercises, stretches, and manual techniques. Some of the common modalities that both professionals use are:
- Electrical stimulation
- Light therapy
While physical therapists blend into spinal health and alignment, most recommend chiropractic care for specialized treatments.
Signs You Need Physical Rehabilitation
Physical rehabilitation could include physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, or chiropractors. Often, it entails an entire health team, such as:
- Naturopathic providers
- Massage therapists
You can use physical rehabilitation to prevent injury or disease. Physical therapists teach exercises and stretches that help you live a healthier life. They also educate on lifestyle changes and provide home exercise programs.
These programs are safe and easy to follow, making daily exercise more enjoyable and beneficial. Often, patients may not know where to start or what to work on.
Physical therapists have extensive training that looks at how your body moves. During an initial PT exam, they may look at:
- Muscle testing
- Range of motion
- Deep tendon reflexes
- Vestibular function
- Cognitive functioning
- Other neurological functioning
- And more
PTs who work in an inpatient or skilled nursing care center will likely have more experience working with individuals who might have impaired balance and neurological deficits. In an outpatient center, PTs likely have more experience with orthopedic conditions (although this isn’t always true).
In these settings, you can get help for sports injuries, post-surgical care, and chronic pain.
Orthopedic Physical Therapy
Orthopedic physical therapy is one of the most common specialties. In this setting, PTs specialize in diagnosing and treating musculoskeletal conditions. During an assessment, they will check your:
- Other connective tissue
Ensure you talk to your PT about pain, movement difficulties, and other complaints. Some common conditions that affect how you move and function throughout the day are:
- Joint pain
- Back pain
- Neck pain
- Impaired range of motion
Sports therapy is a subspecialty of orthopedics. PTs specializing in sports therapy will diagnose and treat injuries typically seen in athletes or patients who exercise frequently.
Although, your average weekend warrior could still be susceptible to ACL tears, sprains, muscle strains, and more. Sports injuries might entail concussions, fractures, or complete tears in more severe cases.
Acute vs. Chronic Injuries
Acute injuries have a definitive cause and reaction. For example, you are going on a long-distance run, and after five miles, you start feeling cramping along the back of your thigh. The longer you run, the worse the pain gets.
The following day, your hamstring is stiff and painful – a classic hamstring strain. You might need to take a break from specific exercises that aggravate your pain and start working with a PT. With acute injuries, PTs help you with:
- Pain management
- Future injury prevention
- Improving muscle imbalances
- Improving range of motion
Your therapy session could include ice, heat, electrical stimulation, manual stretching, and light exercises. As you progress, your PT will start including function-specific tasks, such as running on a treadmill or more complex strengthening exercises.
Chronic injuries or pain is a bit more complex. These injuries may not have a root cause, and pain can last for months to years before patients seek treatment. Some examples of chronic pain are:
- Back and neck pain
Using a PT for chronic injury therapy can reduce the risk of opioid use and overdose. Recent studies show that PT improves function in patients who have back pain, fibromyalgia, and osteoarthritis. The improvements lasted for at least two to six months after starting treatments.
Another critical area PTs help with recovery is after surgery. PTs are recommended immediately after surgery since they are critical in managing pain and kick-starting the healing process.
In studies that looked at post-operative knee physical therapy, they found that patients who participated in outpatient and home exercises had improvements in knee function.
Chronic Back Pain
Back pain is challenging since many people are all too familiar with this nagging chronic pain. Poor posture, age, or injuries can affect chronic back pain. If other conservative measures haven’t worked, it may be time to see a chiropractor or physical therapist.
Approximately one-quarter of Americans report low back pain during the last three months. If you have an acute onset from an apparent injury, you could try physical therapy. Ultimately, you can’t go wrong between a chiropractor and PT for managing back pain.
Remember that chiropractors have more expertise in spinal manipulations and adjustments. For patients with more complex back pain origins or nerve involvement, you may want to see this professional. They perform chiropractic adjustments that realign the spine, reduce pain, and minimize nerve root involvement.
What Modalities Do Physical Therapists Use?
PT practices use various modalities, similar to chiropractors. They may differ in their training with dry needling versus acupuncture. Dry needling uses similar thin needles seen in acupuncture clinics.
However, dry needling is mainly for a trigger point release or managing muscle spasms. Often, these are used in sports therapy along with massage therapy, heat, or electrical stimulation.
Some chiropractors have trained with acupuncture techniques. This is an ancient Chinese holistic treatment that promotes overall health and wellness. While the needles may look similar, they aren’t technically the same treatment type.
Acupuncture treats a wide range of diseases and illnesses, such as:
- Acute or chronic pain
- Chronic fatigue
- Nutrition and diet
- Immune system
Acupuncturists are professionals with extensive training in this ancient Chinese art. Can you combine the two treatments? Yes!
Talk to your acupuncturist and PT about your complaints before deciding which one might work best for you.
Physical Therapists and Naturopathic Medicine
Now that you know a little bit more about what physical therapy is, do physical therapists work with your naturopathic team? In one word: yes.
PTs may use different techniques and treatments than acupuncturists, massage therapists, or chiropractors, but the end goal is similar. PTs want to eliminate the need for prescription medication, costly surgeries, and long-term health impairments.
They strive for overall wellness, injury prevention, and chronic disease management through hands-on and non-invasive techniques. You don’t have to limit yourself to a PT. Instead, utilize a PT and a naturopathic care provider for the best results.
An integrative health center focuses on:
- Complementary medicine
- Alternative treatments
- Holistic remedies
- Whole-body wellness
- Safe interventions
You can receive help with your nutrition, hormonal imbalances, supplements, and much more. There are options for platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy that promotes natural healing and works in conjunction with your PT sessions. The options are endless, and an entire holistic care team approach will promote better outcomes.
Is Physical Therapy Worth It?
The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on the physical therapy profession recently. In a meta-analysis, researchers looked at 15 different COVID-19 studies. The experts evaluated:
- Pulmonary function
- Physical function
- Psychosocial functionn
They determined that physical therapy had positive effects on all three factors in patients diagnosed with COVID-19. While more research is needed to see long-term outcomes, it points to a bigger picture.
PTs are extremely useful in every aspect of healthcare, from acute illnesses to lingering pain. Their techniques are driven by evidence-based practices and are often combined with other holistic treatments. Having a qualified PT on your side can help you recover after training for a marathon or treat an ankle sprain that happened from a weekend playing basketball.
When more severe injuries take you down, they work closely with your surgeon and other care teams for the best care plan.
Natural and Holistic Treatments Near You
Have you wondered if physical therapy could help you? If you have dealt with injuries, pain, or illnesses, it is likely that they can treat your condition! PTs work in various settings and are highly skilled individuals.
Luckily, at The Center for Health & Wellbeing, we specialize in naturopathic medicine and host many natural care providers. We have chiropractors, massage therapists, acupuncturists, and naturopathic doctors, to name a few. They work closely together, helping you achieve better health and wellness.
Contact us today and get started with treatments!