What Is Physical Therapy?
So, the doctor wants to send you to physical therapy or “PT” – what’s that? A physical therapist takes your medical and activity history, then does some tests that measure your strength, range of mobility, balance, posture, breathing and other physical signs to identify the problems you are dealing with now and others that may emerge in the near future. Physical therapy is often prescribed for people living with arthritis, recovering from a fracture, or dealing with chronic pain. Physical therapy can improve your movement, help your sense of balance, control pain without medicine (or with less medicine), and allow you to participate in your recovery. It often costs less than other medical options. Basically, physical therapy helps you get and stay as healthy as possible.
The physical aspect of physiotherapy deals with mechanical force, adaptive devices and movement. Your therapist may have you use gym equipment, like small hand weights, to improve your strength. Learning to walk with crutches or a walker is an example of using adaptive devices. This would include more than walking, but also going up and down stairs, getting into and out of a car, going to the toilet, and other movements that you may not be familiar with when using the crutches or walker.
Squeezing a rubber ball may be an exercise the physical therapist gives you to strengthen your hands. Even tossing a balloon or a light-weight ball can be part of your physical therapy. Often these rehabilitative services are provided while you are in the hospital, before discharge. You may be sent to a rehabilitation center or nursing home for continued physiotherapy after the hospital if you are not strong enough or agile enough to go home yet; for example, if you have steps leading up to your front door and there is no entrance without stairs.
The therapist will set goals for you. For example, if you can’t lift your arms to their full extension, she will give you exercises to improve this so that you will be able to lift your arms higher little by little. She may give you exercises that you need help with, and train your family members or caregiver to assist you with these. Something like lying on your back and lifting your leg with the knee bent might need assistance.
Physical therapy should not hurt but you may be tired and a bit sore toward the end of your session. If you are on pain medication, try to time your dosage so that you take the pain medication just before your session. As you participate in physical therapy, you will get stronger and more mobile and will feel less soreness, so that if the doctor reduces your dosage, it won’t be a problem.
The hospital or rehabilitation center usually has a physical therapy department where you may be sent for your therapy, or the therapist may come to your room. Often therapists visit patients in nursing homes or in their own home after discharge. Medical insurance often pays for a certain number of physical therapy treatments per year. The therapist will probably give you some exercises that you can do on your own between visits from the PT. It is important for you to do these just as you were instructed and as often as instructed. You really are in charge of your getting better.