3 Common Types of Physical Therapy – How PT Can Help You Now and as You Age

Physical therapy offers many advantages, particularly for older adults, by enhancing mobility, reducing pain, and preventing age-related health issues. Consistent physical therapy can help them maintain independence, improve balance, prevent falls, and expedite recovery from surgeries or injuries.

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3 Common Types of Physical Therapy – How PT Can Help You Now and as You Age
6 Min Read October 2nd, 2023 Updated:November 21st, 2023

Physical therapy, often abbreviated as PT, is a specialized area of health care that focuses on evaluating, diagnosing, and treating individuals with conditions that limit their ability to move and perform functional activities in their daily lives. Through tailored exercises, hands-on care, and patient education, physical therapists help people of all ages to return to their prior level of functioning, prevent further injuries, and improve overall health and well-being.

Incorporating proper orthopedic support, such as a knee brace from OrthoBracing, can complement physical therapy efforts, assisting individuals in maintaining their mobility as they age.

A physical therapist works with patients of all ages to prevent, manage, and treat a wide range of conditions, including:

  • Pain
  • Injuries
  • Disabilities
  • Chronic health conditions

This therapeutic approach can benefit a wide range of individuals, from athletes recovering from sports injuries to individuals rehabilitating after surgery or a stroke. 

PT can also aid those with chronic conditions such as arthritis, heart disease, or neurological disorders by helping them manage pain, improve physical strength, and achieve better balance and mobility.

A physical therapist uses a variety of treatments and interventions to help patients improve their movement and function, including:

  • Exercise
  • Manual therapy
  • Modalities, such as heat, ice, and electrical stimulation
  • Education and counseling

As you age, your body naturally undergoes various changes that may decrease mobility, flexibility, and strength. Aging can lead to joint wear and tear, loss of bone density, and muscle atrophy, all of which can make daily activities more challenging. These factors, combined with the increased risk of falls and injuries in older adults, make physical therapy an indispensable tool for older adults. 

Regular sessions with a physical therapist can address age-related challenges and equip seniors with the skills and knowledge to maintain better health and independence for longer.

Here are three common types of physical therapy you should know about.

1. Orthopedic Physical Therapy: Addressing Musculoskeletal Challenges

Orthopedic physical therapy specializes in treating musculoskeletal conditions, encompassing joint pain, sprains, and fractures. Certified orthopedic physical therapists employ exercises, stretching routines, and mobilization techniques to alleviate pain and enhance the range of motion.

Such therapy goes beyond immediate relief, targeting underlying weaknesses or instabilities in affected joints or areas. Recognized as one of the leading non-surgical interventions for joint discomfort, orthopedic physical therapy provides a holistic approach to rehabilitation. Additionally, many techniques used in sports-related physical therapy are integrated into orthopedic treatments, underscoring the comprehensive nature of this therapeutic discipline.

Physical therapy is among the most effective non-surgical treatment options for joint pain due to its ability to address orthopedic issues.

2. Rehabilitative Physical Therapy: A Path to Recovery

Rehabilitative physical therapy stands out as a pivotal approach for patients recovering from injuries or disabilities, typically resulting from accidents. This therapy aims to help these individuals reclaim strength, enhance mobility, and expand their range of motion using a combination of selected exercises, stretches, and specialized techniques.

Beyond physical recovery, rehabilitative physical therapy emphasizes reintegrating patients into their daily routines. It also educates them about managing their conditions more effectively. While physical therapy can sometimes serve as a substitute for surgery, it's worth noting that rehabilitative methods are equally beneficial in aiding post-surgical patients during their recovery journey.

3. Geriatric Physical Therapy: Tailored for Older Adults

Geriatric physical therapy caters specifically to the needs of older adults, addressing the distinct age-associated conditions they face. This therapeutic approach zeroes in on fortifying strength, balance, and coordination, aiming to bolster seniors' independence. By employing exercises, manual therapies, and additional methods, geriatric physical therapists alleviate pain and enhance mobility for this age group.

Physical therapists offer a wealth of knowledge, not only in rehabilitative exercises but also in preventive measures to avert injury or pain. Consult with a therapist for insights on stretches, ergonomics, nutrition, and other strategies to bolster your health and safety. 

By proactively adopting these practices, individuals can mitigate risks of injuries or pain, fostering overall well-being. Anyone grappling with injuries, ailments, or disabilities needs to recognize the appropriate physical therapy specialty they require and engage with a proficient professional.

Physical Therapy in Long-Term Care: Enhancing Wellness and Independence

In long-term care settings, physical therapy (PT) plays a crucial role in promoting the well-being and functional independence of residents. Physical therapists work closely with patients who may have experienced injuries, undergone surgeries, or are dealing with chronic conditions, helping them regain strength, balance, and mobility. 

By offering personalized exercise regimens, manual treatments, and therapeutic modalities, these therapists focus on improving residents' physical capabilities, reducing pain, and preventing further decline or complications.

Beyond the immediate physical benefits, PT in long-term care settings also has profound psychosocial impacts. A consistent therapy routine can provide residents with a sense of purpose and achievement, combating feelings of helplessness or depression that may arise from prolonged facility stays. 

By engaging in therapy, residents enhance their physical capabilities, confidence, and quality of life, fostering a more holistic sense of wellness in the long-term care environment.

Typically, health insurance and Medicare cover only a limited duration of physical therapy. However, many older adults could benefit from continuous physical therapy sessions. Notably, Long-Term Care Insurance can fund this ongoing therapy, especially when it aids in daily living activities.

Types of People and Conditions PT Can Help

PT can help people of all ages, from infants to older adults. PTs work with patients who have a wide range of conditions, including:

  • Arthritis
  • Back pain
  • Cancer
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Diabetes
  • Dizziness
  • Fractures
  • Head injuries
  • Heart attack
  • Joint replacement
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Neurological disorders
  • Osteoporosis
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Stroke

How Need for PT Increases with Aging

As you age, you are more likely to develop chronic health conditions, such as arthritis, osteoporosis, and heart disease. These conditions can lead to pain, weakness, and difficulty with movement and function. PT can help older adults manage these conditions and improve their quality of life.

Additionally, as you age, your muscles and joints naturally weaken and become more susceptible to injury. PT can help older adults maintain their strength and flexibility, which can help reduce their risk of injury.

Benefits of PT for Older Adults

Physical therapy provides a number of benefits for older adults, including:

  • Reduced pain
  • Improved mobility and function
  • Increased strength and flexibility
  • Reduced risk of falls and injuries
  • Improved balance and coordination
  • Improved quality of life

How to Get PT

To get physical therapy, you can start by talking to your doctor. They can refer you to a physical therapist or give you a prescription for physical therapy. You can also find a physical therapist on your own by searching online or asking your friends and family for recommendations.

Once you have found a physical therapist, you will need to schedule an initial evaluation. This evaluation will help the physical therapist to understand your condition and develop a treatment plan. Your treatment plan may include exercise, manual therapy, modalities, and education and counseling.

Physical therapy is typically provided in a physical therapy clinic or hospital. However, some physical therapists also offer home visits.

Most states do not require a doctor's order for physical therapy. However, the following states and U.S. territories require a doctor's order for physical therapy:

  • California
  • District of Columbia
  • Guam
  • Puerto Rico
  • Virgin Islands

Please note that this list is subject to change, so it is always best to check with your state's physical therapy board to confirm the requirements.

Even in states where a doctor's order is required for physical therapy, you may be able to see a physical therapist for a few initial evaluations without a doctor's order. This is known as direct access to physical therapy. However, you will need a doctor's order to continue physical therapy after the initial evaluations.

If you are unsure whether you need a doctor's order for physical therapy, it is always best to talk to your doctor.

Tips for Getting the Most Out of PT

Here are some tips for getting the most out of your physical therapy:

  • Be honest with your physical therapist about your condition and your goals.
  • Attend all of your scheduled appointments.
  • Do your exercises at home as prescribed by your physical therapist.
  • Communicate with your physical therapist about any pain or discomfort you are experiencing.
  • Be patient and persistent. It takes time to see results from physical therapy.

Talk to your doctor or physical therapist if you have any questions or concerns about physical therapy.

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About the Author

Mallory Knee is a freelance writer for multiple online publications where she can showcase her affinity for all things beauty and fashion. She particularly enjoys writing for communities of passionate women who come together for a shared interest and empower one another in the process. In her free time, you can find Mallory trying a fun new dinner recipe, practicing calligraphy, or hanging out with her family.

LTC News Contributor Mallory Knee

Mallory Knee

Contributor since September 25th, 2020

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