Physical therapy uses the movement of the human body, exercises, education, and pain treatment to help a patient deal with an injury or health condition that impairs their physical ability. Physical therapy is common after an injury accident to help the patient recover from temporary injuries. For some conditions or permanent injuries, treatment may require ongoing physical therapy to manage the injury.
What is Physical Therapy?
Physical therapy involves treating an illness or injury that impacts a person's ability to move and perform everyday functions. Physical therapy is based on human physiology and movement, or kinesiology, and uses a variety of methods, including:
- Health education
- Pain management
- Mobility devices
- Assistive technologies
Physical therapy generally begins with an initial evaluation to look at the individual's physical abilities and limitations. This includes an initial diagnosis, which may include imaging studies like X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs. The physical therapist can establish a management plan based on the patient's physical goals and progress.
There are a number of ways to manage physical therapy for a patient, including:
- Exercises and assisted movements
- Manual therapy
- Use of traction, braces, or sleeves
- Heat and cold treatment
- Sound wave treatments
- Electricity treatments
- Assistive devices
Physical therapy can help an injury victim recover prior function as well as prevent the loss of movement or muscle strength caused by diminished ability, degenerative conditions, or aging. Physical therapy may also include health and wellness education to promote a healthier and more active lifestyle.
Physical Therapists and Healthcare Professionals
According to the American Physical Therapy Association, “physical therapists are movement experts who improve quality of life through prescribed exercise, hands-on care, and patient education.”
A Physical Therapist (PT) is a trained and licensed practitioner with a scope of practice to examine, diagnose, and treat disabilities and physical impairments. This includes treating patients from newborns to adults to patients in hospice care.
A Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) can assist to provide physical therapy under the supervision of a PT. A PTA has more limited authority and cannot diagnose physical impairments or disabilities. A PTA program generally involves a 2-year program and passing a national examination.
Kinesthesiology and Human Anatomy
Physical therapy is far more than an exercise regimen. Trained physical therapists have an understanding of the study of body motion and human anatomy. Some physical therapists may specialize in certain areas of healthcare, including orthopedics, sports medicine, pediatrics, or neurology.
Physical therapists practice in a number of roles and settings, including hospitals, outpatient offices, physical therapy clinics, fitness facilities, and nursing facilities.
PT Training and Licensing
To practice as a PT in the U.S., the individual has to earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree from an accredited physical therapy program. After earning the degree, the PT will need to pass a state licensure exam in order to practice in that state.
A DPT degree is generally a 3-year program, after receiving a bachelor's degree. The education consists of coursework, lab study, and clinical education, with subjects including:
- Exercise physiology
- Behavioral science
- Cardiovascular and pulmonary
- Endocrine and metabolic
After graduating with a DPT degree, the individual needs to fulfill the requirements of the state licensing agency, which varies by state. For example, certification in Pennsylvania is handled by the State Board of Physical Therapy and requires passing the National Physical Therapy Examination.
Some PTs may continue their education and training with a residency or fellowship program. This may involve continuing supervision, mentoring with an experienced PT, or specialized education in a
When Physical Therapy is Necessary
Physical therapy can be beneficial for many people, even those without any physical impairments. Some athletes use PT to improve their performance or help recover from injuries. However, for most people, physical therapy becomes necessary after an accident, illness, injury, or because of limitations associated with aging.
Short Term Physical Therapy Treatment
Physical therapy is often a short-term or temporary treatment. Some injuries will improve over time until the patient fully recovers. For example, a patient with knee problems may undergo knee replacement surgery. After surgery, a physical therapist may help the patient do exercises and stretches to help the leg regain strength to allow the patient to recover after an invasive operation. After a few weeks or months of PT, the patient may no longer need PT and can return to all their normal activities.
Long-Term and Ongoing Physical Therapy
After some accidents or because of certain medical conditions, physical therapy may be necessary for ongoing or long-term treatment. For example, degenerative disk disease (DDD) can weaken the patient's spine and the condition may get worse over time. Physical therapy can help these patients strengthen back and core muscles, massage out tension, and reduce pain.
Exercise and Assisted Movement
Therapeutic exercise can be demonstrated, prescribed, and assisted during physical therapy. Exercise and assisted movement are some of the most common treatments for physical therapists to help patients recover, prevent further impairment, increase physical activity, lower risk of injury, and increase overall health and well-being.
Therapeutic exercise can include endurance conditioning, aerobic exercise, agility training, breathing exercises, stretching and muscle lengthening, strength training, range of motion exercises, relaxation exercises, and education. Assisted movement generally involves the PT helping or guiding the exercise or movement with the patient's participation.
Cryotherapy and Heat Treatment
Cryotherapy is treatment using cold air, ice packs, or liquids. Cryotherapy may be useful in treating sports injuries, decrease pain, improve recovery, and to address inflammation. Heat treatment may also be used in physical therapy to relieve muscle pain, increase mobility, allow for easier movement, and reduce muscle tension.
Hydrotherapy or aquatic therapy has the benefit of reducing pressure and the force of gravity on the body. The natural buoyancy of water lowers stress on the body and allows the patient to move and exercise while still providing strengthening resistance.
Soundwave and Electricity Treatments
Therapists can use electricity or sound waves for treatment of some types of pain or injury. Acoustic compression uses sound waves to target tissue and different parts of the body, acting like a focused massage. Electrical stimulation (e-stim), can also be used to treat pain or injuries, including muscle weakness, tendonitis, or back pain. E-stim can be used to contract muscles on demand, which can be useful for patients with muscle weakness or as a way to treat muscle spasms.
Spinal traction involves taking pressure off the spine to treat injuries including herniated discs, DDD, pinched nerves, sciatica, or other back injuries. Traction can use a device or manipulation to relieve pressure and provide pain relief. It may also be used to help the back recover from injuries.
Physical therapists may also provide deep tissue massage therapy to patients. Physical therapy massage may target tension in the muscles caused by sprains or other injuries. This can provide pain relief and also help with recovery from injuries. Massage may also help improve range of motion for patients.
Mobility Devices and Wheelchairs
For patients with temporary or permanent mobility issues, a wheelchair or other mobility device may allow a patient to get around and participate in everyday life. Wheelchairs and mobility devices may need some getting used to. A physical therapist can help a patient acclimate to the use of a wheelchair, safe operation, getting in and out of the wheelchair, as well as strengthening other muscles to make using a wheelchair more comfortable.
Amputation and Prosthetics
Amputation involves the loss of a body part, such as an arm, leg, fingers, or toes. Amputation can follow an injury, illness, disease, infection, or surgery. After amputation, the patient may have difficulty recovering movement and physical ability without that part of their body. Physical therapy can help amputees adapt other muscles, improve mobility, and restore the ability to perform daily tasks.
For some amputations, a prosthetic may be used to restore some of the function of the lost body part. A prosthesis is an artificial device that replaces the missing body part, for aesthetic and functional purposes. For patients who use a prosthesis, they may have to go through physical therapy and training to use the new artificial body part and adapt to using the prosthesis.
Multiple Treatment Approach
Physical therapy often involves multiple treatments and a total management physical therapy plan. Multiple treatments may be used together or progress over time to treat different conditions, adjust for improvement and progress, or address new health concerns or injuries that arise during treatment. As a patient, it is important to understand your physical therapy plan and to talk to your PT about treatment options and alternatives.
Physical Therapy After an Injury Accident
Physical therapy is a common form of treatment for patients injured in an accident. Damage in an injury accident can include minor sprains or strains, permanent nerve damage, or traumatic brain injury. The physical therapy that may be prescribed after an accident may depend on a number of factors, including:
- Type of injury
- Extent of injury
- Age of the patient
- Health of the patient
- Treatment goals
- Other existing conditions
Automobile Accidents and Physical Therapy
Automobile accidents are among the most common causes of injuries that can benefit from physical therapy. Even minor car accidents can cause neck, head, and back injuries, like whiplash. Treatment for minor car accident injuries may include physical therapy with stretching, exercises, and massage.
More serious car accident injuries can involve a range of damage, including broken bones, amputation, paralysis, head injury, neck injury, or spinal injury. Some of these injuries may use physical therapy to help the accident victim recover their normal activities. Injuries that permanently affect an individual's ability to walk or move may require continuing physical therapy treatment to help them adapt to a permanent injury.
Physical Therapy After a Medical Error
When a patient learns that they have been injured because of a medical mistake, it can be devastating. A doctor's negligence may require continuing care and treatment for a patient that may now distrust the medical establishment.
Medical errors that can require physical therapy can include anything that impacts an individual's ability to move, including:
- Nerve damage,
- Brain damage,
- Spinal cord damage,
- Muscle damage,
- Anesthesia complications, and
- Surgical errors.
Costs of Physical Therapy Treatment
Another unfortunate factor in the type of treatment the patient receives is based on their insurance coverage and who was responsible for the injury. Patients without a good healthcare plan may be unable to pay for the care they need to maximize their recovery. Even if someone else caused the injury, the victim may not be in a position to demand compensation to pay for treatment.
A personal injury lawsuit provides a way for injury victims to recover damages for their medical needs, including physical therapy, treatment, and future medical care. A personal injury lawyer provides a way for the patient to focus on recovery while the attorney fights for their rights to get the damages necessary.
In the same way, a medical malpractice attorney can help the injury victim make sure they are focused on recovery without having to deal with the insurance companies. A medical malpractice lawyer can help the injury victim recover damages, including:
- Medical expenses
- Future medical care
- Loss of income
- Loss of earning potential
- Pain and suffering
Lawyer for Injury Accidents and Malpractice
If you were injured in an accident and have to go through physical therapy as part of your medical treatment, the person responsible for causing the accident should have to pay the costs of all your medical care. If physical therapy does not restore you to your pre-accident condition, you should be compensated for your loss of ability, loss of enjoyment in life, and pain and suffering. Do not hesitate to contact Gilman & Bedigian today for a free consultation.
When an injury is caused by a medical error, you may require extensive physical therapy to get you back on track. Even after months of PT, you may not be back to where you were before the injury. As the victim of medical negligence, you can benefit from a lawyer who understands how to get you the compensation you deserve. Talk to an experienced medical malpractice attorney about holding the doctors and hospitals accountable for their negligence.