When most people hear about physical therapy, they usually tend to think that it’s only for disabled individuals and those who are recovering from injury. While it may be true that physical therapy is perhaps most commonly used on patients that fall into these two categories, this is far from its only application. Physical therapists can also help individuals reduce their risk for injury by identifying any imbalances that might be present and addressing them with a targeted exercise program.
Physical therapists are rehabilitation specialists and experts at evaluating how each patient moves their body when performing normal daily tasks. They then use this information to determine if the individual has any issues with their posture, strength, motion, or balance (which is usually the case, since very few people move “perfectly.”)
What many people don’t realize is that these issues generally exist prior to the onset of pain and increase the chances of an injury occurring. It’s for this reason that a great deal of pain related to bones and muscles, as well as many injuries, can actually be prevented. But injury prevention requires identifying potential problems and strategically addressing them, and physical therapists are the most qualified medical professionals to provide this service.
Whether you get lots of physical activity or not, you’ve probably dealt with your share of pain in one form or another. Painful conditions like low back pain, neck pain, and ankle soreness are extremely common across the board in both active and sedentary individuals, and it’s often difficult to pinpoint exactly what the source of pain is. While most of these episodes will improve over time on their own, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the pain won’t return or is nothing to be concerned with. In some cases, these apparently minor bouts of pain may actually be warning signs for a bigger problem with more pain or an injury down the road. It’s often challenging to know the difference, but this is exactly what physical therapists specialize in.
A physical therapy program can prevent injuries and other medical conditions in a number of different ways, but in all cases the approach is the same: help patients to move better and more frequently so that their bodies become more efficient and balanced. Below are some highlights of how physical therapy is used to prevent injuries and when it may be appropriate:
- Education: after performing a thorough evaluation of your body and movements, your physical therapist will identify areas that are weak, out of balance, or inflexible; from here, the therapist will educate you by explaining these deficits and what can be done to address them in order to reduce your injury risk
- Sport-specific injury prevention: for athletes involved in a single sport, your physical therapist can provide you with a training program that takes into account the movements involved and common injuries in order to reduce your risk
- Lifestyle modifications and exercise recommendations: if you’re not exercising regularly or lead a sedentary lifestyle that involves lots of sitting, your physical therapist will recommend that you become more active in general and also offer specific ways to do so in your daily life; leading a physically active lifestyle is considered one of the best ways to reduce the risk for a host of health conditions like arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer
- Prehabilitation: surgery may be needed for patients with severe injuries, but the procedure is not the end of the story; a rehabilitation program before surgery—called prehabilitation—will help you prepare the body for what’s to come and drastically increase the chances of a successful recovery with a lower risk for injury in the future
This shows that physical therapy is not only for injuries that have already occurred, but also for stopping those from occurring in the first place. This can easily be achieved by seeing a physical therapist for a full-scale evaluation and then following their recommendations afterwards. Perhaps the best part is that you don’t need a referral from another doctor to see a physical therapist. All 50 states and Washington, D.C. allow for direct access, which means you can schedule a physical therapy appointment on your own whenever you’re ready.