4 Things Physical Therapists Do that Dr.’s Can’t
Whenever something goes wrong with your body, you’re likely tempted to turn to a doctor, assuming that self-help and the internet don’t come through for you. There are definitely some very serious conditions that you should see a doctor for, rather than trying to treat them at home. However, heading to a doctor is not your only option, and in the case of physical injuries, you may be better off seeing a physical therapist as well. In fact, you may find your doctor recommending one. This is because of the role physical therapy can play in dealing with bodily injuries.
Generally, people only think about physical therapy if they are athletes, or they’ve been in a serious accident—any situation where there is a serious physical injury. While it is true that physical therapists can help with such matters, they also bring more to the table when it comes to your health. For example, they can advise you how to exercise more safely and effectively, leading to a better workout. This is not to discount the wealth of knowledge a good doctor has, but when it comes to bones and joints and muscles, a physical therapist is likely more informed.
What a Physical Therapist is, and What They Do
Put simply, a physical therapist is a specialist. They are focused on the movement of the body, which means they understand how the different parts of the body (muscle, bone, joint) interact to make that happen. This is why they are able to help people recover from injuries, and how they are able to determine problems with bodily pain. They can examine how a limb moves, for example, and identify problematic patterns with that movement, such as stress or instability. Left unchecked, these can cause or exacerbate injury. Here are a few cases where you should consult a physical therapist.
They say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That’s why we take vaccines and vitamin supplements, use seatbelts, wash our hands after using the bathroom, and why you should see a physical therapist. Just like a doctor can go over your risk factors for certain illnesses, a physical therapist can talk to you about your risk for suffering certain injuries, generally through tests such as a full movement screen, as well as a postural assessment. These tests will give you an idea of where you stand (and walk, and run) in terms of physical health.
As the name implies, the movement screen is a test of the body’s range of motion, screening for any indicators of existing or potential injury. A functional movement screen involves the screening of all major functional motions that a person is likely to perform on a frequent basis. Typically, such a screen will test for knee, hip, and core stability, spinal alignment, as well as general strength, flexibility, and range of motion. From here, it is possible for a trained physical therapist to identify any weak spots and provide some specific tips to rectify them, reducing the chance of injury.
If you’re familiar with yoga, then you have probably performed a postural assessment before. For those of us not in the know, it refers to the ‘bases of support’ (BOS) for all positions. While this may seem yoga specific, we all require a strong, supportive base for whatever we’re doing, whether we are in motion, or not. In order to begin motion at all, it’s important to start from a secure posture. Essentially, what the movement screen is for motion, the postural assessment is for being still. A stronger posture will improve both the stability and power of your movements.
Because they specialize in motion, physical therapists can help you design an effective workout. Physical therapist and personal trainer both can be abbreviated ‘PT’. Coincidence? Yeah, probably. The ability of a physical therapist to assess your body’s specific conditions- not just the strength of your muscle groups, but your flexibility, any imbalances, and your posture- can allow them to take special consideration when providing workout advice. This gives you an effective workout without putting you at risk for injury or causing a greater imbalance in your body’s equilibrium. No one exercise program fits all people, even those who seem similar.
Even if you have a personal trainer or a workout plan you like, a physical therapist can help you assess how that workout is affecting your body, and head off any complications that may be arising. Additionally, if you have concerns about adjusting your workout, a physical therapist can have a more thorough, in-depth conversation with you about it to address your concerns and ensure that your body is getting the work that it needs; They can help you build routines that prepare you for more vigorous motions by working the requisite muscle groups ahead of time to prevent injury.
No one likes being hurt. It can severely limit your quality of life and set you up for other injuries. It may mean time off of work. Most people know that a physical therapist can help with recovery from accidents or injuries, but a lot of people underestimate how much of a difference a physical therapist can make. As a result, they slowly, or not at all, and are prone to re-injury. Recovery is not just about exercising the area in question; the wrong sort of exercise will only make matters worse. Proper recovery includes the right exercise and equipment.
Have you heard of compression clothing? Essentially, compression garments (often socks, but also pants or sleeves) compress the area they are worn over in order to increase blood flow, as well as reduce inflammation. Since the blood carries important nutrients to the body’s cells, and inflammation can lead to other ailments, this is something of a win/win. Your injured muscles get more nutrients to rebuild more quickly, and the inflammation response is soothed so there is less pain and a lower risk of complications. They work almost as well as a massage for soothing the body, especially after tough workouts.
Foam rollers are another recovery tool. They are used to help the muscles return to their natural state. After heavy, strenuous exercise, your muscles may end up feeling sore and stiff. This results in a lot of discomfort and decreased performance- the same is true after trauma—after all, that’s basically what exercise is, to a degree. The foam roller serves to soothe trigger points in your muscles, and while it is certainly uncomfortable to use, you will feel better, and your muscles will recover better than had you not used it. They can also be used for certain exercises.
Building Stability, Alignment, Posture
As mentioned earlier, a physical therapist can test your range of motion and your posture. They can help you to identify problems with your workout, or concerns of pain during certain movements. A physical therapist can thus diagnose a physical injury (repetitive stress injuries, for example, are very common) formulate a plan for recovery that includes what not to do in addition to your course of action, and then provide exercises that strengthen your body and avoid risk factors so that you do not fall victim to such an injury again. They are with you every step of the way.
This sort of remedial work on your muscles is good for more than just your physical health. A healthy and fit body is more resistant to illness and disease. Beyond this, you may also find your social and emotional health improving. If you’re in a class with other people in similar situations, this is even more likely as you bond over common goals of recovery. Either way, a good physical therapist can instruct you in the proper stretches and exercises, as well as other techniques that can facilitate proper recovery and improvement, and therefore a better standard of health overall.
Finding a Physical Therapist
When it comes to your health, synergy with your healthcare providers is important in order to facilitate the best outcome. For this, you may rely on friends and family to point you in the right direction. However, you do have other options, thanks to search engines and sites like Yelp which can help you narrow down what you are looking for specifically. In general, you’re likely going to want a physical therapist who accepts your insurance carrier and provides the treatment options you’re looking for, so don’t be afraid to do some shopping around in order to assess your options.
Of course, it also goes without saying that you will need to find someone who makes you comfortable. It doesn’t matter how highly rated a therapist is, or what services they provide, or even how affordable they are if you don’t feel completely comfortable with them. A poor relationship or lack of trust may lead to stress or injury, and ultimately interfere with any recovery progress or preparation for more strenuous activity. This is another thing that recommendations from friends and family can help with, but here, in person investigation is crucial so that you can interact with the staff.
By the same token, the physical therapy facility itself is also worth investigating. Ideally, it will be in a location that provides convenient access, especially if you are injured, and has plenty of space inside. Likewise, all of the equipment should be clean and maintained to reduce the risk of injury and infection. Making sure that you are comfortable with both the people and the facilities when it comes to any physical therapy situation is the way to be sure you feel both safe enough and motivated enough to make the most of any services you receive in that regard.
While your doctor should be your go-to for general overall health, if you find yourself dealing with posture or movement issues, you should consider consulting a physical therapist. In fact, even if you feel fine, it doesn’t hurt to check in and have posture and movement screening tests done, particularly if you are prone to injuries. Of course, physical therapists are invaluable to recovery once you’ve been injured, but why not avoid getting injured in the first place if you can help it? Keep your workout routine safe and keep your body in balance by consulting a physical therapist.