Patient Working With a Stretchy Arm Band During Physical TherapyPhysical therapy is a catch-all term for active treatments that improve the body’s functionality. It includes customized movements to address physical pain or limitations, patient education, and at-home exercise programs to prevent problems from returning.

Your doctor may recommend physical therapy for an injury, during surgery recovery, or to address long-term health problems.

What Physical Therapy Can (and Cannot) Do

People respond to physical limitations in one of two ways: by avoiding certain activities or “pushing through” and living with chronic pain. A sports physical therapist has a unique view of the body’s capabilities and potential, using exercises to ease pain and restore lost mobility.

Physical therapy may involve the whole body or focus on a single area, such as the legs, shoulders, or neck. Your therapist may use manual therapy (such as massage) or offer treatments with additional benefits, such as heat and cold therapy, electrical stimulation, or dry needling.

Physical therapy helps patients:

  • Perform everyday movements. Physical therapy aims to make it easier for patients to do daily tasks and activities, such as walking, running, lifting, or climbing stairs.
  • Relieve pain. Physical therapy is a way for patients to get results and improve their quality of life without relying on opioids or overusing over-the-counter medications.
  • Restore lost function. Therapeutic exercises can improve your range of motion, strengthen your joints, and increase your flexibility after an injury.
  • Improve fitness levels. The exercise regimens in physical therapy include stretching, weight lifting, core exercises, and other activities that may result in weight loss and improved endurance.
  • Improve athletic performance. An essential aspect of sports physical therapy is the promotion of peak performance. Physical therapists work with athletes to help them understand their bodies and the factors that may impact their ability to hit, run, swing, or move to keep up with the demands of their sport.

Physical therapy is highly effective, but it absolutely cannot be rushed. Each movement gradually restores function, helping the body develop steadily over time. Powering through sessions or trying to rush recovery isn’t going to help you get better. In fact, it’s likely to cause injuries that put you back on the starting line.

Who Could Benefit From Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy can help just about anyone ease pain and gain greater control over their bodies. It is particularly beneficial if a person's movement is affected by the following:

  • Aging. Older adults who have physical therapy sessions are more likely to have the strength and balance it takes to avoid common injuries, such as falls or broken bones.
  • Acute injuries. Rolled ankles, broken bones, and surgery recovery can all cause short-term disability that could benefit from physical therapy. Therapy is typically recommended after the injury has healed, and ligaments and muscles can be stretched without risking re-injury.
  • Chronic injuries. Athletes at all levels of play are at risk of overuse injuries. Sports physical therapy can help treat chronic pain from overuse injuries and develop techniques to prevent re-injury.
  • Disease. Patients with musculoskeletal disorders, such as arthritis or fibromyalgia, may benefit from physical therapy to improve motor skills and restore coordination. It can also help ease pain in people with chronic illnesses, helping them manage their symptoms and improving their quality of life.
Dr. Carlos J. Berio
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D.P.T. Doctor of Physical Therapy in Virginia