What is physical therapy? | Total Performance Physical Therapy

What is physical therapy?

June 8, 2012

The American Physical Therapy Association describes physical therapy as “clinical applications in the restoration, maintenance, and promotion of optimal physical function.” What are clinical applications? What is optimal physical function? Most people understand the concept of physical therapy but don’t truly understand the underlying meaning behind the occupation that is physical therapy. The truth is defining physical therapy is quite difficult.  There is a lot more to physical therapy than most people think. Many people assume that physical therapy is where injured people go to do exercises. Even though this is somewhat true, this is only a fraction of what physical therapists have the capability of doing. Physical therapy is not only a health profession but an art form as well.

Physical therapy dates all the way back to ancient Greece where select people would use a hands on approach, or manual therapy and massage techniques, to help those with physical ailments feel better. Transition to the 1800’s and early 1900’s where physical therapists were known as “reconstruction aids”. These aids were used highly in
the military to help return physical function to those wounded and/or injured in war. The positive physical, mental, and emotional outcome these soldiers had increased the demand for these aids that eventually lead to the formation of the title of Physical Therapists. Therapists were first constrained to an orthopedic setting, meaning treatment and the restoration of function of muscles/ligaments/joints/etc. However, in time, the need for different fields of therapy exponentially grew and now physical therapists are treating patients in a variety of domains including cardiovascular/pulmonary therapy (heart and lungs), neurological injuries (strokes, brain injuries, etc.), wound care, women’s health, pediatrics (children), geriatrics (elderly), and sports, just to name a few. Because physical therapists understand the body in great depth, doctoral degrees are given to those who graduate from physical therapy
school.

Physical therapists are educated and understand all systems of the body, as they are capable of treating patients with one or more of the previous injuries or deficits. Physical therapists are educated in the entire human body, including muscles, ligaments, nerves,
the brain, bones, joints, organs, the cardiovascular system, the skin, basically anything and everything pertaining to the human body. Because physical therapists know the body so well, they understand how the body is supposed to function when it is working properly as well as what, why, and how it isn’t working properly when injured. This allows therapists to treat patients with all different types of injuries, spanning from an assortment of such things as wounds, to strokes, to knee replacements and ankle sprains.  Unlike other professions, physical therapists understand the time frames tissues need to heal and then eventually grow or become conditioned to perform certain tasks. For example, they are educated on healing time frames including ligaments, muscles, tendons, the skin, joints, heart muscle, and much, much more. They understand what, why, and how your body responds to treatment on different levels of the body, including cellular, tissue, muscular, and organ.

The extensive knowledge of treatment physical therapists have can be thought of as
the art of healing.  Like previously stated, therapists can manage wounds, help build strength, increase range of motion at specific joints using stretching and hands on movement (or mobilization) of joints, release tight tissues, the list goes on and on.  Physical therapists are also trained and educated on the use and benefits of modalities and other forms of treatment which include but are not limited to electrical stimulation, ultrasound, taping, traction, laser, bracing, etc. Most of these modalities are treatments
physical therapists are trained and certified in and are not used by gym trainers or at home which promote healing during the rehabilitation process along with other treatment.

Although goals such as being able to bend your knee more and raise your arm higher are important for patients, the main goal of physical therapy is helping patients
restore and better the quality of their lives. It is about helping those with physical problems regain the ability to perform tasks they currently have trouble in order to help them perform activities they were once capable of doing before their injury. It is about giving others the opportunity to have the best possible quality of life given the possible ailments, or problems. It can be as simple as helping a patient with slight knee pain run again or as extensive as helping a patient with a stroke try to eventually relearn how to
feed themselves again.

For more information on physical therapy services head to www.totalperformancept.com.

A big part of therapy is also education. Most people don’t realize it is a physical therapist’s duty to help prevent any further injury or injury to other parts of the body by educating patients on things such as posture, certain ways to walk, when to stretch or
exercise, how to use assistive devices, how to sleep and sit, etc. For example, a physical therapist may educate someone with a knee pain how to go up stairs properly in order to prevent further damage and any other damages if the body tries to compensate. Physical therapists can also educate family members and caregivers, for example, how to properly transfer their grandfather into his wheelchair or how to help strengthen a late developing toddler at home.

What makes physical therapy so special though, compared to other professions, is that it’s not a one-time deal and then you’re forgotten. Physical therapists care about their patient’s and family’s life-long commitment to achieve the best quality and ability of everyday functioning they are capable of reaching. So
the next time your doctor hands you a sheet of exercises and tells you to go do
them and you will be fine, chances are you are missing the big picture of
tissue healing and will actually wind up creating compensation strategies that
can wind up hurting you in the long run.
With patients able to see a physical therapist without seeing a doctor
first, it behooves any person to consult with a physical therapist for any
muscle or joint injury.  Taking the time
to see a physical therapist 1 or 2 times when it happens may save you 3 -4
months of therapy in the long run.

For more information on physical therapy services head to www.totalperformancept.com.