Most people associate physical therapy with high-level sports or post-surgery recovery. However, physical therapy serves a broader purpose, encompassing treatments such as vertigo and chronic headache treatment. In this article, we’ll explore 10 of the top reasons you may want to see a physical therapist.
What is a physical therapist? Role and process
A physical therapist is a healthcare professional who can assess, diagnose, and treat a wide range of conditions that limit movement and function.
The first step when visiting a physical therapist is assessment — your physical therapist will ask you questions to get a detailed history of your condition. Some of these questions may not seem relevant at first, but they are all needed to build a full picture of your life, your condition, and how it impacts your daily activities.
The second step is diagnosis. Physical therapists can diagnose many medical conditions, but some may need imaging or specialist assessment from a doctor. If needed, your physical therapist can point you in the right direction for further assessment.
Once you have a diagnosis, your physical therapist will begin treatment. Each person has unique needs and goals for physical therapy, and different physical therapists work in different ways, so treatment methods can vary widely. There is usually an exercise component in treatment.
10 reasons to see a physical therapist
If you’re reading this article, you may be wondering “Should I see a physical therapist?” Here are some of the most common reasons to consider physical therapy.
1. You’ve had a fall, or you’re worried about falling
Fall prevention is a big part of physical therapy. Whether you have a medical condition that’s declined recently, you’ve had an injury that makes you feel unsteady, or you’re struggling with your balance as you get older, physical therapy may help.
Falls can be scary, and it’s natural to lose confidence if you’ve had a fall. A physical therapist can provide exercises to help build your confidence back up and regain (or maintain) the physical skills you need to get around safely. Many physical therapists can even visit you in your home to assess you in a comfortable environment.
2. Chronic headaches
We recommend that you ask your primary care physician to assess your headaches first, as headaches can have many different causes, and some of them are not suitable for physical therapy treatment. Physical therapists can help best with a particular type of headache called cervicogenic headaches.
Cervicogenic headaches are referred from your upper spine and can cause pain that goes up your neck and into your head. You may feel this pain on top of your head and across your eyes and face. Physical therapy for the spine addresses the root cause of this type of headache.
3. Pelvic floor conditions
Pelvic floor conditions are most common in women and are often triggered by pregnancy or childbirth. However, men can also develop pelvic floor conditions, particularly if their pelvic floor muscles are damaged due to surgery or radiation. Physical therapists can help with symptoms of pelvic floor conditions such as incontinence, pain, difficulty passing urine, and constipation.
Physical therapy for vertigo is called vestibular rehabilitation, and only specific physical therapists are trained in these treatment methods.
A vestibular physical therapist can assess the organs of your inner ear (your vestibular system) and provide treatment to help with vertigo. These physical therapists often work closely with a specialist team of different professionals who can treat the different aspects of vertigo.
5. You’ve had heart surgery
Cardiac (heart) rehabilitation is recommended for many people following heart surgery, and there are physical therapists who specialize in this type of therapy. A physical therapist can help you build up your fitness, return to your daily activities, and regain your confidence.
6. Pain or stiffness from arthritis
Physical therapists treat arthritis all the time. They can help with pain, stiffness, and difficulty with exercise or daily activities. Exercise is recommended for arthritis, but people often struggle to find exercise they can do without flaring up their pain. That’s where a physical therapist can help.
7. Breathing problems
Breathing problems should always be assessed by a doctor before visiting a physical therapist. Breathing problems can be a sign of a serious underlying condition, so your physical therapist will ask for a doctor’s review first.
Once you have a diagnosis, there are many respiratory (breathing-related) conditions that a physical therapist can help with. These include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and cystic fibrosis.
8. You’ve had a stroke
Stroke rehabilitation is another specialist type of physical therapy. A stroke can vary widely in its severity and symptoms, and physical therapy can help with many aspects of recovery. Physical therapy is useful in the days immediately following a stroke, and many months or even years after the stroke has taken place.
9. You’ve had a sports injury
Many athletes work with physical therapists to optimize their performance and maximize their recovery from injuries. This is especially important for professional athletes, who rely on their physical fitness to make a living.
10. You’ve had other surgery
Physical therapy can help with many different types of surgery. This includes orthopedic surgery like hip replacements or tendon repairs. It also includes heart surgery, neurological surgery, abdominal surgery, and more. The type of physical therapy treatment will depend on your symptoms and goals.
Most common physical therapy treatments and techniques
Just as people vary widely, so do the different types of physical therapy treatment. Treatments and techniques will be selected based on your goals, preferences, medical conditions, and the skills of your physical therapist.
The most common treatments include:
- Manual therapy
- Hot and cold therapy
When should you see a physical therapist?
Still wondering when to see a physical therapist? If you’re struggling with one of the conditions mentioned in this article and haven’t seen a physical therapist yet, it could be time to visit one today.
If you’re unsure whether physical therapy can help you or whether you need a physical therapist with specialized skills, contact your local physical therapy clinic. They should be able to advise whether they can help or point you in the right direction if you need help from another healthcare professional.
What are the benefits of seeing a physical therapist?
Physical therapists can assist you in restoring movement and function if you are struggling with injury, illness, or disability. The benefits may vary depending on individual health and needs.
What conditions do physical therapists treat?
Physical therapists treat several conditions, including musculoskeletal (related to muscle and bone), respiratory, cardiac, neurological, and vestibular conditions.
What are the main approaches used by a physical therapist?
Physical therapists usually provide exercise therapy and education about your condition. They may also provide a variety of hands-on treatments such as massage, manual therapy, and acupuncture.
Physical therapists aim to improve movement and function. They can assess, diagnose, and treat a wide range of conditions.
Reasons to see a physical therapist include falls, chronic headaches, vertigo, arthritis, sports injuries, surgery, and many more.
Physical therapy treatment usually includes exercises and education but can also include a variety of hands-on techniques like massage and manual therapy.
If you’re unsure whether physical therapy can help you, contact your local physical therapy clinic for advice.
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- Current Opinion in Obstetrics and Gynecology. Pelvic floor physical therapy in the treatment of pelvic floor dysfunction in women.
- British Medical Bulletin. Physiotherapy management of lower limb osteoarthritis.
- NeuroRehabilitation. Effectiveness of physiotherapy interventions in brain plasticity, balance and functional ability in stroke survivors: a randomized controlled trial.
- Revue Des Maladies Respiratoires. Physiotherapy during and after acute exacerbation of COPD.