Physical therapy (or physiotherapy), often abbreviated PT, is a health care profession. Physical therapy is concerned with identifying and maximizing quality of life and movement potential within the spheres of promotion, prevention, diagnosis, treatment/intervention and rehabilitation. This encompasses physical, psychological, emotional, and social well being.
Modalities are used on a short-term basis to help decrease pain, decrease swelling, decrease inflammation, and/or improve muscular and joint function. Modalities include ultrasound, electrical stimulation, moist heat, ice pack, iontophoresis, phonophoresis, etc.
A physical therapist uses ultrasound as a treatment, not as a diagnosis procedure. In other words, the sound waves emitted by a therapeutic ultrasound will not result in a picture, but rather it produces deep heat in the tissues.
Ultrasound relieves pain, breaks up scar tissue and increases tissue temperature. Ultrasound creates an environment that is conducive to the healing process.
There are many different uses for electrical stimulation. In addition to reducing inflammation, uses include maintaining muscle tone, reeducating muscle fibers and reducing pain.
This treatment involves using a mild electrical current to move ions of medication into tissues from the skin’s surface. A common symptom associated with acute pain is inflammation. Anti-inflammatory medication is placed on an electrode on the skin and then “driven” into the tissue via an electrical current. Conditions such as tendonitis, plantar fascitis and bursitis can be treated with iontophoresis.
Hot & Cold Packs
Hot Packs – The hydrocollator is a machine which houses water kept at 160 degrees F. Inside you will find gel-filled packs used for moist heat. Heat is used to: increase circulation, reduce spasm, loosen tight tissues, improve flexibility, and reduce pain. You may start your therapy with moist heat to help with stretching and range of motion exercises, or you may end your therapy session with heat to reduce soreness, which may occur after mobilizations or massage.
Ice – Ice is used to reduce inflammation, swelling and pain. Ice is applied by placing it in a plastic bag and putting it on the affected area. Other forms of applying cold (or cryotherapy) include ice massage, whirlpool and circulating ice water machines.
Functional Exercise Programs
This is the physical therapist’s “tool” of choice. PT will instruct you which exercises to perform, how to safely perform them, how to progress with them as your condition permits.
The value in an individualized exercise program is that it specifically addresses the cause of dysfunction, such as decreased strength or flexibility. By maintaining an exercise routine following completion of therapy, you are able to take control of your improved functional ability.