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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Special Topics > Physical Therapy

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is a group of services provided by a health care professional. It helps preserve, develop, and restore physical function. It can help restore physical health that has been lost to injury, disease, or other causes. The goals are to relieve pain and promote fitness and health.

What is the information for this topic?

Who provides physical therapy?

Physical therapy services are provided by a physical therapist. A physical therapist is specially trained and educated at a college and must be licensed in the state in which he or she practices. A physical therapist may specialize in certain kinds of problems. Physical therapists may work with very ill people, or with top athletes. They may work with babies or with older people.

Physical therapists work in hospitals, rehabilitation clinics, medical offices, nursing homes, and athletic facilities. They may travel to the home or workplace of a patient.

What kinds of patients and problems does physical therapy treat?

Physical therapy deals problems in the muscles, joints, brain, nerves, heart, lungs, and the skin surface. The problems may be due to injuries, diseases, or conditions. Physical therapy deals with all stages of recovery. It can be used for one brief visit to prevent a problem. It can also be used for years to treat a long-term problem.

People with muscle and joint problems often have a lot of pain. Their muscles have often become weak and tight. These people can have a decrease in their energy level. Often their posture and joints are not aligned correctly. All of this contributes to a loss in performing daily work, recreation, and home activities.

People with brain and nerve problems struggle with feeling and controlling the body. These are the primary roles of the brain and nerves. These people may also have muscle and joint problems. That's because the brain and nerves control the muscles and joints. These people may also have trouble controlling muscles that overcontract or resist contracting.

People with head injuries or problems may have difficulty with speaking, understanding, remembering, learning, and other thinking skills. They may have trouble knowing where their body parts are, knowing when they are moving, controlling movement, or keeping muscles and joints from freezing into one position. They may have severe weakness or paralysis.

People with heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease have problems with endurance and general strength. They often have trouble getting enough air to breathe. That's because the heart and lungs, which get oxygen to the body, are not working properly.

Skin surface problems may be due to wounds or burns. These people often have a lot of pain because the skin has many nerve endings. They may also have trouble with their muscles and joints.

What are the goals of physical therapy?

The main goal of physical therapy is to restore physical function. This can involve treating pain, range of motion, strength, posture, balance, endurance, control, and sensation. Specific goals must be set for each person. These goals depend on the kind of problem. Some typical goals might be to improve range of motion of a joint, to increase strength in a muscle, or to increase walking distance.

What are the treatments given in physical therapy?

Pain problems may be treated by machines or methods that help heal the injured tissue. Providing protection, improving circulation, or restoring function often decreases the pain.

Stretching exercises to increase flexibility may treat range of motion problems. Strengthening exercises may help with range of motion. This may be useful with joints that are overly strained or torn. Strength and endurance problems are treated with various forms of resistance training. The amount of weight and the length of exercise time used are gradually increased.

Balance and control problems may be treated by special exercises and training.

Sensation problems are treated by stimulating nerves. This promotes increased feeling or control. Sometimes, a person has too much feeling in the skin nerves, which causes discomfort. Special treatments can help decrease the nerve sensation.

Does insurance cover physical therapy?

Most insurance companies will cover physical therapy. It can be given in a hospital, a rehabilitation facility, an office, or at home. Insurance policies may have limits on where physical therapy will be covered. There are often limitations on how much physical therapy will be covered.

What is a good way to locate the best physical therapy?

Physical therapy treats many different problems. It is important to have a physical therapist who is experienced in the right problem. For example, a physical therapist who treats people with back injuries may not be the best choice to treat a person with a brain injury. A doctor or rehabilitation nurse can offer recommendations. It is acceptable to call a physical therapist or physical therapy department to ask about experience and training.

Author: Scott Salee, PT
Reviewer: Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
Date Reviewed: 07/02/01

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