Physical therapy is an important component of every recovery and rehabilitation plan after a surgery or injury. Most people have heard of physical therapy but don’t really understand what it is and why it’s so important.
To help you understand physical therapy better, here are the answers to some common questions about it.
Physical therapy is a healthcare specialty that focuses on helping patients with mobility limitations rehabilitate and get back to an active lifestyle through non-invasive and medication-free exercises, massages, stretches, and therapies. It was initially developed in the early 20th century to help returning soldiers recover from the war. Now, physical therapy patients comprise of those recovering from all sorts of injuries, illnesses, and surgery, as well as those with chronic pain.
Practitioners of physical therapy are called physical therapists, and they use passive modalities and therapeutic exercises to rehabilitate patients. Passive modalities include hot/cold therapy, massage therapy, ultrasound, and electric stimulation, dry needling, and biofeedback – all of which can help relieve pain and improve a patient’s recovery. Therapeutic exercises include but are not limited to aerobic exercise, balance, and coordination exercise, stretching and strengthening exercise, and range-of-motion exercise.
However, that’s not all that transpires during a physical therapy session. For example, patients who are injured, often have biomechanical issues that may have contributed to their injury. Physical therapists provide patient education to help patients move correctly to prevent reinjury. Physical therapists teach patients how the body works, proper biomechanics, and the importance of the regular physical activity to overall health.
The goal of physical therapy is to help relieve pain, improve flexibility and range of motion, and restore normal function. As the muscles are stretched, the patient may experience soreness, which is normal. Physical therapists sometimes push patients beyond their comfort zone to realize what their bodies can do. Ideally, patients should be empowered to correctly and safely do the exercises at home and become independent.
Every person’s physical therapy program is different, as each is customized, and several factors affect the timeline of recovery. On average, muscle injuries take 2-4 weeks to heal, tendons can take up to six weeks, bones take up to eight weeks, and cartilage and ligaments take as long as three months.
Physical therapy sessions are scheduled a few times per week, with the expectation that patients will do their exercises at home, as well. Physical therapists will track your progress and assess whether you are making progress, and adjust the treatment plan accordingly. Overall, physical therapy is not about having a quick fix but for the patient to experience lasting results with consistent treatment and gradual improvements. The body takes time to heal, and physical therapy recovery happens in stages.
With patience and perseverance, and as long as you stick to your physical therapy plan, you will return to your original condition, if not better.