Physical therapists work with people who have sustained injuries to muscles, nerves or joints, suffered strokes or heart attacks, or undergone neuromuscular or joint surgery. In addition, they help people prevent injury and loss of mobility. People commonly utilizing physical therapy include those with low back and neck pain, hip and knee replacements, balance issues, mobility-limiting arthritis, sprains, strains, hip fractures, among others.
A properly trained physical therapist has, in addition to a college degree, a master’s degree (and sometimes a clinical doctorate) in physical therapy. Therapists must pass a national examination and be licensed by the state. Some receive additional training in specialties such as geriatric, neurological or pediatric physical therapy.
It is all too common for people with injuries like badly sprained ankles or shoulder pain resulting from too much swimming to think it is best to tough it out. Too often, however, they suffer residual disabilities that are then much harder to treat. Getting physical therapy early on can result in faster recovery and prevent more costly treatment later. Home physical therapy services are available for patients who are not able to travel.
Cost should not be an obstacle. Medicare and Medicaid cover needed physical therapy, federally qualified health maintenance organizations are required to offer physical therapy, and nearly all health insurers cover some physical therapy. But check with your insurer, because pre-certification is sometimes required. Your policy will define who is eligible for the therapy and the amount of care that is covered. Some policies limit sessions by the year, others by the condition being treated and still others by a strange designation called “per episode of care”. One young man’s ridiculous policy covers 30 sessions a year but only within a 30-day period. Should you or your doctor believe you need more physical therapy than is covered by your policy, you are entitled to appeal. Call the insurer’s member services department to find out how to file an appeal.
As with any profession, there are good physical therapy practices, as well as not-so-good ones. The space in which therapy is provided should be adequate and the therapist should use a variety of techniques, not just gym equipment. These may include manual therapy, massage, hydro therapy, among others.
The first visit should include an objective history and a look at the whole person rather than an isolated body part that is the current complaint. The therapist should also discuss the patient’s goals. Therapists who take a narrow view can limit a person’s ability to achieve desired goals.
During prescribed exercises, both stretches and strengthening ones, the therapist should pay attention to details and carefully observe the patient’s technique, because doing an exercise incorrectly doesn’t do any good. Only after patients have mastered it should they be left to do it on their own.
The amount of time the therapist spends with the patient should be considered. The therapist should not be constantly moving from one patient to another, giving each a minute at a time. The purpose of each exercise should be explained, as well as what you should be feeling while doing it. This way you can know you are doing it correctly when working independently.
Finally, the therapist should give patients exercises to do on their own, between treatments and after therapy is completed. You don’t want to lose the progress you’ve made through all that hard work.