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Physical Therapy – Topic Overview

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What is physical therapy?

Physical therapy is a type of treatment you may need when health problems make it hard to move around and do everyday tasks. It helps you move better and may relieve pain. It also helps improve or restore your physical function and your fitness level. The goal of physical therapy is to make daily tasks and activities easier. For example, it may help with walking, going up stairs, or getting in and out of bed.

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Physical therapy can help with recovery after some surgeries. Your doctor may suggest physical therapy for injuries or long-term health problems such as: Physical therapy may be used alone or with other treatments. You may get physical therapy at:
  • A clinic.
  • A hospital.
  • A nursing home.
  • Your own home, through home health agencies.
  • School.
  • A sports or fitness setting.

What does a physical therapist do?

Your physical therapist will examine you and make a treatment plan. Depending on your health problem, your therapist will help you with flexibility, strength, endurance, coordination, and/or balance. First, your therapist will try to reduce your pain and swelling. Then he or she will probably work to increase your flexibility, strength, and endurance. Physical therapy almost always includes exercise. It can include stretching, core exercises, weight lifting, and walking. Your physical therapist may teach you an exercise program so you can do it at home. Your physical therapist also may use manual therapy, education, and techniques such as heat, cold, water, ultrasound, and electrical stimulation. Treatment may cause mild soreness or swelling. This is normal, but talk to your physical therapist if it bothers you.

What should you look for in a physical therapist?

Try to find a physical therapist who is licensed and who you feel at ease with. You’ll also want a therapist who has experience with your health problem. Physical therapists can specialize in:
  • Muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments, and bones.
  • Nerves and related muscles.
  • The heart and blood vessels.
  • Lung problems and breathing.
  • Skin problems, including wounds and burns.
  • Cancer-related problems.
  • Treatment for children, older adults, or women.
Here are some questions to think about when choosing a physical therapist:
  • Can your doctor suggest one?
  • Do you need a referral from your doctor? Some states require this.
  • Will your insurance company pay for your physical therapy?
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