As a physical therapist people are rightfully asking us questions about what is the best treatment for their issue. Even after evaluating and explaining what our course of action will be, people will frequently say “my friend had this problem and did something different should I do that?” or “someone at the gym told me they did this exercise and it fixed them” or “I was on the internet and it said to use this for my problem”. As a PT I am all for people being educated and active in their care, for the most part these are the people who do the best, but there is a lot of information out there, good and bad. As physical therapists, we are trained to be specialists in movement, which is the prime consideration in many musculoskeletal and pain problems. Below are the 5 best ways a PT can help you treat your issues.
- Assessment: This is the number one thing a PT can do to help you improve your condition. Assessment involves diagnosing your condition and is the foundation of all treatments. When people ask if they should do certain exercises, rest, stretch. or do specific treatments without me assessing them my honest answer is “I don’t know”. Treatments are all tools to improve a certain aspect of injury or pain such as promote healing, improve strength, or change movement patterns. All treatments have their place and will work well when applied correctly. But if you are attempting to improve your back pain by getting stronger when you have a flexibility issue, it is like using a hammer to open a can, good tool wrong time. This is where information overload gets a lot of people. There are many good treatments out there to help pain and injury, but self-diagnosing is hard without experience. And your problem may be similar, but not the same as your friend’s or the guy at the gym.
- Education: Then next most powerful treatment your PT can provide is educating you about your condition. One of the problems in healthcare in today’s society is many people are under the assumption that they will go to someone who will do something to them or give them something and they will be fixed. Many movement conditions and pain conditions we see are not like that. We have the ability to figure out what may cause them, but the client has to take responsibility to do certain things to help. This may be to rest after an acute injury, avoid certain motions or positions, do certain exercises to improve function, or just monitor their condition. It is our job as PT’s to educate you and inform you about what your condition is about, what a realistic prognosis is, and what you can do to take control of your issue and get you to the best place you can be.
- Exercise: Research is now showing that many if not most health issues have one common denominator. They can be helped by some sort of exercise. Patient centered and injury specific exercise is the foundation of our treatment programs for movement disorders, pain, and injury. It is important, however, to assess each person and injury individually to apply the correct exercise tool at the appropriate time.
- Pain Reduction: This is the use of an integrated strategy to help reduce, eliminate, or control acute or chronic pain. This may involve hands on manual techniques, passive modalities such as laser, dry needling, electrical stimulation, or thermal agents, education about position or activity, or specific movement exercises. Again there are many tools to help in this area, but the key is applying the correct tools in the correct situation. So just because laser or needling was perfect for your friend does not mean it will be perfect for you.
- Health Optimization: Another issue in today’s medical climate is specialization. Many providers of care are very focused on certain systems or even specific body parts (knee surgeon or back specialist). Physical therapists are educated in treating movement disorders of the entire body and dealing with multiple systems such as musculoskeletal, neurological, and cardiovascular among others. We are also frequently spending more time with our clients than many other providers are able to. It is common for our clients to benefit, not just from the treatment to their specific condition, but for overall health. This could be learning how their hips may affect their back or knee problem, how to reduce further injury risk, improved knowledge of exercise for overall health, ways that they can make their work place more safe, or how they can help an aging family member deal with disability and live a higher quality of life. Physical therapists do more than fix a body part they try to help you.
If you have not been to a PT before some of these treatments may be different than you expected. You may have thought you would go to a PT and they would do some stuff to you and fix you. In some cases this does happen. We assess that you need a manual treatment. We do that and your pain goes away. But in many cases such as chronic pain, repetitive injury, progressive diseases, and post surgery this is not going to always happen. In these situation this is where a PT will help take care of you and if not fix you at least help you.