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What is Physical Therapy?

Updated: Oct 31, 2022

As defined by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), "Physical therapists are movement experts who improve quality of life through prescribed exercise, hands-on care, and patient education. Physical therapists diagnose and treat individuals of all ages, from newborns to people at the end of life. Many patients have injuries, disabilities, or other health conditions that need treatment. But PTs also care for people who simply want to become healthier and to prevent future problems."

How do you become a Physical Therapist (PT)?

The physical therapy profession has come a long way since it's invention in the early 1920s. Currently "to practice as a physical therapist in the U.S., you must earn a doctor of physical therapy degree from a Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education-accredited physical therapist education program and pass a state licensure exam. The length of professional DPT programs is typically three years. Primary content areas in the curriculum may include, but are not limited to, biology/anatomy, cellular histology, physiology, exercise physiology, biomechanics, kinesiology, neuroscience, pharmacology, pathology, behavioral sciences, communication, ethics/values, management sciences, finance, sociology, clinical reasoning, evidence-based practice, cardiovascular and pulmonary, endocrine and metabolic, and musculoskeletal." (APTA)

What does a PT evaluation consist of?

A physical therapy evaluation is necessary for current injuries or significant changes in mobility. Your physical therapist is going to look at a number of things, starting with taking a history of your current injury or function and to understand how other aspects of your life or health may be impacting the current issue. The history of the injury/dysfunction will guide them to a hands on assessment and understanding of the cause of the injury. During this assessment, your PT will look at the strength and stability of the body part in question, as well as other joints. They will assess range of motion, look for restrictions to movement or impaired movement patterns, assess for swelling or discoloration, and assess the tone and quality of muscle contractions.

Different diagnoses and histories will effect the type of evaluation your therapist completes. Primarily neurological, cardiovascular, dizziness, or fall related injuries may have further testing including, but not limited to, vitals assessment, looking at reflexes, or positional testing.

Your PT will determine a treatment diagnosis to guide the plan of care (POC) and further treatment. This is different than the medical diagnosis a physician or specialist will provide. Your PT will inform you or their findings, their correlation to your medial diagnosis (if you've been provided one) and expectations for healing and treatments.

What does PT treatment look like?

Treatment will differ widely between diagnoses. Typically, treatment will be based on the evaluation findings. For example, if you come to PT for an ankle sprain, initial treatment will be focused on reducing your pain and inflammation and restoring any loss in range of motion. This may include the use of manual therapy in which the PT may use massage, joint mobilization, or other forms of soft tissue mobilization. From there, your treatment will progress to restoring the strength and stability in the joint as well as improving body mechanics or movement patterns and strength further up the chain (knee or hip) which may have lead to the ankle injury.

Fall related injuries are often the result of decreased strength and poor balance, so treatment would focus on improving strength in the areas that may have caused the fall as well as extensive balance and proprioceptive training to decrease your risk of any further falls.

Cardiopulmonary diagnoses will include the a progressive and monitored return to activity while strengthening your heart and lungs . Your PT will also teach you how to monitor your symptoms and modify activities in order to return to your prior level of function ( or better function).

Dizziness can have many causes and treatment for dizziness will be specific to the cause.

How do I get in to see a Physical Therapist?

This answer varies from state to state. In Georgia (Age Fit's location), you can see a PT at any time for up to 8 visits or 21 days (whichever comes first). After this time, you will need a referral from your physician for continued care. It is important to check with your insurance as well, as many insurances mandate a referral regardless of the state's rules and may also require pre-authorization for treatment and reimbursement. However, there are benefits to direct access to see a PT. #GetPTfirst means you can seek immediate treatment vs prolonged timeline in getting in to see your physician who may or may not understand the benefits of physical therapy and send you with a referral. PTs are knowledgeable of the human body. If we think you need further care, imaging, a specialist, or we believe that your injury/dysfunction is not within the scope of our practice, we will help get you to the correct referral source.

Physical therapists can also help you with prevention of injury and illness by guiding you through programs specific to your goals. Physical activity is the number one way to prevent an abundance of disease, dysfunction, and prevent an injury from occurring in the first place. Taking control of your mobility and activity now can make the difference between maintaining your independence in the future and a devastating fall. Early intervention and prevention can also help to reduce your risk or improve your current conditions (ex: diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, osteoporosis, and pain)

Think Physical Therapy might be right for you! We are happy to discuss your situation and determine a program to fit your needs!

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