Physical Therapy FAQs
What is physical therapy?
Physical therapy is a treatment method for improving movement and functionality that have been compromised by age, disease or injury. Patients recover through the use of restorative exercises that focus on muscle strength, flexibility, balance, posture and coordination, and overall pain relief. Physical therapy is also designed to prevent reinjury and maximize patient quality of life.
What kinds of conditions can physical therapy treat?
Physical therapy is used to treat a wide range of injuries and conditions. Patients with neurological diseases, arthritis, traumatic brain injuries or orthopedic injuries may benefit from physical therapy, as may patients who have undergone surgery or had strokes.
What happens during the first physical therapy session?
During the first physical therapy session, the therapist performs a physical examination, and discusses a patient's needs and treatment goals. A customized physical therapy plan, which typically includes a combination of exercise, massage and minimally invasive treatments, is then developed.
What happens during a typical physical therapy session?
A typical physical therapy session begins with heat therapy and/or stretching to prepare the body for the treatment to come. The therapist then takes the patient through a series of exercises and other activities custom-designed to restore strength, movement and flexibility wherever needed.
Depending on the patient's condition, a physical therapy session may include:
- Therapeutic exercises
- Functional training
- Manual-therapy techniques
Exercises usually progress in difficulty and intensity during the course of treatment. Each session typically ends with icing or therapeutic massage to help the patient cool down. The patient's progress may be discussed after each session to determine whether changes to treatment are required.
How long does a physical therapy program take to complete?
The length of a physical therapy program varies depending on the type and severity of the condition being treated, as well as the amount of progress made throughout treatment. A typical patient undergoes physical therapy for at least a few months.
How often are physical therapy sessions needed?
The frequency of sessions depends on the patient's condition, but two to three sessions per week is considered average.
What should be worn during physical therapy?
Patients are encouraged to wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing that does not restrict movement. For patients with ankle or knee injuries, wearing shorts is recommended.
Is physical therapy covered by insurance?
In most cases, physical therapy is covered by insurance, although a copayment may be required for each session.
Should additional exercises be performed at home to help speed recovery?
Many physical therapy programs include exercises that can safely be performed at home to speed the recovery rate; the therapist provides specific instructions on which, and how often, exercises and stretches can be performed.
- National Institutes of Health
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
- U.S. National Library of Medicine
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