The goal of physical therapy is to ease pain and improve function in the musculoskeletal system. A physical therapist looking to ease pain and/or improve function is going to start with an evaluation. The physical therapist is going to take range of motion measurements; strength assessment; and check neurological function, specifically sensation and reflexes.
After further physical tests, a physical therapist makes a clinical impression. Like a doctor’s diagnosis, a PTs clinical impression guides the treatment plan. From there, the physical therapist leads patients in exercises that the individual should do right then to practice and again at home. Then, the PT will practice hands-on techniques to improve joint mobility, decrease muscle spasms, release muscle tightness, and improve circulation. From there, they may also work on posture and body mechanics training, and improving abilities like walking, going up and down stairs, and other common activities.
Each session may look a little different because physical therapists work with the end in mind. From the initial evaluation, the questions doctors of physical therapy answer are, “What is the ultimate goal that the patient wants to achieve? What do they want to be able to accomplish? And what are those building blocks? What are those steps they need to get there?”
Physical therapy programs work when there’s a good partnership between the therapist and the patient. Provided the issue is a musculoskeletal one that is possible to have improvement with physical therapy, PT works when both have buy-in to wanting to be better.
Putting all that together, physical therapy works because it’s all about improving the strategy and the movement capabilities of the human body. We are designed to move well. And the physical therapy profession is established to help people move better and to move well.
Dr. Karyn Staples, PT, Ph.D., and the Founder of ProHealth Physical Therapy and Pilates Studio shared one of her recent case studies. The patient was a professional pilot who had recently had his knee replaced and needed postoperative physical therapy. When he came into the practice to begin the recovery process, Dr. Staples did his initial evaluation which included range of motion, strength, how he was moving, and checking the amount of swelling.
Dr. Staples started with his goal of wanting to return to work. So first she started with the initial range of motion and strength-building. At each session, she assigned exercises for the patient to work on at home between his appointments. At each appointment, she watched the patient, checking the quality of his movement, utilizing exercise pieces of equipment that are in the facility, as well as hands-on therapy techniques to expand the range of motion, improve mobility, decrease swelling, relieve pain, and improve strength.
After six weeks of physical therapy, he was able to return to walking without any assisted device. His range of motion was within functional limits, meaning his leg was straight, and the knee was bending. He had 120 degrees of flexion. And strength was continuing to improve.
By his eight-week postoperative mark, the patient was able to return to work at the airline and was able to start doing most of his activities.
There are doubters who think that physical therapy won’t work for them. Just like it’s hard to find the right doctor, sometimes it’s hard to find the right physical therapist. Patients should feel heard, and that they’re being listened to. And a competent physical therapist should be able to take a whole-body perspective on a single joint issue.
Dr. Staples shared another appropriate case study of a patient she saw who experienced a lot of chronic pain and other systemic issues. She hadn’t done well with previous physical therapists. The physical therapists that she had seen previously didn’t really listen to her. They especially didn’t listen to what she said about how her body was reacting to their therapy. At the same time, the patient was juggling medications and diagnoses of her other conditions. Other PTs were trying to force her into a treatment pattern of two to three times a week for four weeks, and according to Dr. Staples, it was too much on her body. She needed more time to recover between sessions.
Just by listening, Dr. Staples got the patient on a treatment schedule that honored her body and was more effective because of it. Through active listening and a thorough exam, a physical therapist should be able to synthesize and analyze information and come up with a workable plan.
For the doubters, physical therapy isn’t new science. It was invented towards the end of the 1800s and was really established to combat the polio outbreak in 1916. For well over 100 years, physical therapy has been helping patients to move better.
If you are in or near Peachtree City, Georgia, Dr. Karyn Staples and the team at ProHealth would be pleased to get you started on physical therapy to ease your pain or improve your function. Call 770-487-1931 for an appointment.