October is Physical Therapy Month! And because I frequently get questions about physical therapy and what a doctor of physical therapy can do to help you, I’d like to answer some of them here.
First and foremost, why should you have your own doctor of physical therapy as part of your close medical team? How can he/she help you with your overall health, welfare and longevity? Second, should you take an active part in choosing your physical therapist, and if so, why?
It’s probably easy for many of us to say, “Who really cares who my therapist is – my physician knows what’s best for me.” Unfortunately, many physicians may not have up-to-date information on the clinical skills and education of a doctor of physical therapy. A therapist’s expert knowledge today is leaps and bounds above what was taught in physical therapy school 30 to 40 years ago. In fact, in most instances, you should see a skilled physical therapist before you consider more invasive procedures, like surgery, or lengthy courses of injections or pain medications that may only cover the symptoms and not the real underlying problem.
Even if your physician recommends physical therapy, the way medicine is structured today, with many physicians being employees of large corporations or employing their own physical therapists, you may be referred within their setting. Does this mean you won’t see a skilled therapist? No, but there is a reason the Stark Law discourages referral within your own organization or “referral for profit”. Some doctors are required to send your physical therapy referral to a department where they determine referrals, but on what basis, education, experience, skill or whether the person is employed by the same entity. You have the right to choose your therapist and should exercise that right. Research your physical therapist in your area as you would your doctor, surgeon, and so on. You are entrusting this person with your future good health and mobility; choose accordingly. Call a friend or someone you know and find out about the place where you are about to have physical therapy. It is truly your choice of where you want to go. As with any medical professional, not all physical therapists have the same training, skill, knowledge or understanding. Base your selection on experience, level of skill, additional training, personality and word of mouth. Also, make sure you are working with a physical therapist each visit as opposed to seeing a technician or massage therapist for the majority of your sessions. Remember you also have to do your part – home exercises, positive attitude and belief that you can get better.
A doctor of physical therapy has expert knowledge rooted in the nervous and musculoskeletal system through all stages of life (before birth, through childhood, adolescence, and adult, mid-life and into old age). The human body is made up of over 600 muscles that enable our movement, strength and play. Many of the aches and pains we experience throughout our lifetime come from injuries to our nervous and musculoskeletal systems. These can be overuse injuries, accidents, in our daily living, work, sports, and leisure activities, and of course the aging process itself. And whether we get back to normal is dependent on a number of things; the age at which we were injured, the severity of the injury, the remedy used to fix the problem, the skill of the medical professionals involved and the compliance of the patient in adhering to medical instructions. Because so many of the problems that interfere with our ability to move or do so pain free pertain to the 600 muscles mentioned above and nerves, it is prudent to have a long-term relationship with a physical therapist who can help you decide your best course of action throughout your lifetime. Physical therapists have the medical knowledge and expertise in the nervous and musculoskeletal systems and thus can advise you on the most effective yet conservative treatment options before considering a drug program or surgical procedures. A doctor of physical therapy understands how the body operates and knows exactly how to treat pain or movement problems.
A few areas where a lifelong relationship with a physical therapist is advantageous include sports injuries (particularly children during their growing years), pelvic pain (pre/post childbirth, female and prostate issues), diabetes and weight loss (adding or increasing exercise safely), injury and fall prevention (at any age but particularly as we age) and cardiovascular health. Remember anything pertaining to nerve, joint and muscle pertains to physical therapy a natural, conservative solution that really works.
Prevention and treatment of sports injuries
Research shows that the earlier the injury, the higher the probability of onset osteoarthritis, particularly when surgery is involved. Growing children are particularly susceptible as their bodies are vulnerable when growing. Prevention is key along with proper form of exercise and adequate rest – all of which are things a therapist can help with naturally.
Pelvic pain is felt in the lower abdominal area (pelvis or genital area) in both men and women. Pelvic pain for women can result from pregnancy and childbirth (hormone levels, muscular weakness, tender points, pressure on nerves, and scar tissue from a surgical procedures). Males can experience pelvic pain due to prostatitis, epididymitis, pelvic floor muscle weakness, bladder spasms and gonad discomfort. A skilled physical therapist can work with you using natural methods to remedy your pain problem.
Diabetes/weight loss/cardiovascular health
Diabetes affects 26 million people in the United States. Poor nutrition and highly processed foods add to this increasing phenomena (for young and old). In the early 1900’s the average man was 5 foot 8 inch tall and weighed 150 pounds, while the average 5 foot 4 inch female weighed 130 pounds. Not so today. It is also a fact that many individuals in those days walked 3 to 4 miles every day. Today, 50 percent of the American people are obese (30 percent or more in body fat), few walk anywhere and the foods we purchase are depleted of minerals and vitamins, and yet are full of fillers, chemicals, unnatural fats, sugars and glucose. A skilled physical therapist can help you understand the pitfalls of diabetes and work with you on your diet and exercise program to reduce sugar levels and prevent exercise pain and injury.
Falls and fall prevention
Falls can happen from dizziness, vertigo, stiff neck muscles, over-medicated and overall body weakness. Dizziness is a feeling of light-headedness; vertigo is the sensation of the room spinning, and both of these feelings can be the result of neck stiffness, inner ear problems or another form of disease or pathology that your physician will investigate. A skilled physical therapist can help with dizziness and vertigo problems and assure you better balance through visual and muscle strengthening to help prevent fall.
Physical therapy is so often bypassed by the medical community for many soft tissue, joint and pain problems. Instead, many individuals (children and adults) are given medications or referred for costly procedures, injections or surgical procedures. Ask your primary care physician to be seen first by a skilled physical therapist and start with an effective natural process. You will be pleasantly surprised about how much a doctor of physical therapy can help you or a family member.
Dr. Leon Bradway PT MS OMPT is owner of the Sports, Back & Pain Management Clinic in Bryan. He has developed conditioning programs and rehabilitated division one college athletes, high school and middle school athletes and elite military forces. He believes that most injuries can be prevented and that no one should have to live in pain as there are natural solutions that work.