Your first physical therapy appointment may feel like an interrogation. That’s because your therapist wants to design the unique treatment plan that’s best for you. If he or she doesn’t get to the underlying causes of your injury, you’ll continue to get hurt.
Based on your answers, your therapist will recommend one or several of the eight best physical therapy methods:
This lays the foundation for restoring tissue function. It’s a hands-on approach that uses massage, stretching and exercises that are specific to an injury. Manual therapy frees up movement and guides the body into proper alignment. It’s the most basic and important physical therapy method.
Upon that building block, methods called passive modalities are added.
Most people are used to applying ice, but they don’t know why it works.
Ice constricts blood vessels to reduce inflammation. It supports manual therapy by making joints easier to manipulate, and it significantly reduces swelling.
It’s a mistake, however, to continue with ice long term or use it for more than a few minutes at a time.
Heat should be used sparingly for muscular tightness or spasms. It makes soft tissue more pliable for stretching. Injuries that involve ligaments or tendons usually benefit from a little heat.
Low-level laser treatment is effective for pain, inflammation and muscle fatigue. Therapists use small hand-held devices to deliver low-level wavelengths of light, and mitochondria respond by producing energy. Energy heals and regenerates tissue deep below the skin.
Ultrasound therapy, which has been around since the 1940s, is completely safe and painless.
Sound waves are applied directly to the skin through the ultrasound wand. The resulting pulses or vibrations have been shown to increase blood flow, relax strained tissue and break down scar tissue. It is often used for patients with ligament injuries or chronic inflammation. Its most common purpose is to prepare damaged tissue for manual physical therapy.
Functional electrical stimulation is anything but shocking.
Electrical stimuli are applied in low, steady doses to cause contractions in dormant muscle tissue. The gentle contractions restore function and ease of motion to speed recovery. Patients who have endured knee surgery, a torn Achilles, partial paralysis or traumatic injury are good candidates for electrical stimulation.
The goal of traction is to separate vertebrae, decompress joints and bring the spine back into proper alignment. It’s usually recommended to patients with herniated lumbar discs because it reduces pain and improves quality of life. Traction may be manual or mechanical.
All the experts agree: Exercise, along with a healthy diet and quality sleep, is a mainstay of physical, mental and emotional health.
Exercises in physical therapy are kicked up a notch. Your therapist will teach you specific movements that target muscular imbalance. These movements may be designed to treat an injury, prevent an injury or simply work out the kinks of a sedentary lifestyle.
You won’t feel better overnight, but be patient. The goal of therapy is to get you back in action, and there’s a method to the madness.