CINCINNATI—It may seem obvious to see a physical therapist when recommended by your physician or after orthopedic surgery—but physical therapists can also help with a wide range of movement and pain issues, from changing your bad posture habits to developing strategies so you can avoid injury.
Both Ohio and Kentucky are "direct-access” states, meaning patients are able to make an appointment with a physical therapist directly, without a referral from a physician.
Thomas Herrmann, assistant professor of clinical rehabilitation sciences at UC’s College of Allied Health Sciences, says patients can consult physical therapists for musculoskeletal aches and pains as well as balance concerns, weakness and side effects of neurological conditions.
While any acute injury that may require an X-ray or other imaging should be seen by a physician, Herrmann says more patients require therapy to correct problems resulting from gradual injuries than immediate ones.
"More people suffer from wear-and-tear problems than they do acute problems,” he says. "Many of the issues we see are driven by persistently poor posture and repetitive motions.”
While the pain may have taken months or years to develop, Herrmann, a licensed physical therapist, says that once practitioners determine its root cause, many problems "can be successfully addressed.”
"There’s nothing miraculous to it,” he says. "If your knee has been sore for six months, it won’t be perfect in two weeks. But with a treatment plan and consistent work by both the patient and the therapist, many of these issues can be resolved with lasting benefits. Patients can learn things to do to protect themselves from future injuries.”
He says if soreness or mild pain doesn’t resolve itself within a few weeks, you should schedule an evaluation with a therapist who can help identify the problem and develop a treatment plan.
That may involve adjusting a patient’s exercise routine, or modifying his or her work or home environment. For older patients, it can involve strength training or developing more efficient strategies to help them through their activities.
"For the most part, especially as we get older, we get progressively weaker,” says Herrmann. "But our everyday physical demands don’t particularly diminish. They just represent more of our total capacity— simply, it catches up with you. You lose your ‘cushion’ of energy through the day.”
Physical therapists also work with many patients with movement problems due to a chronic condition or neurological disease.
While they can’t reverse the disease process, therapists can work with these patients to make their movements more efficient and safe.
"This may require a lot of training, to not only recover movement, but maintain personal safety and quality of movement,” says Herrmann. "But it often allows patients to keep their quality of life and independence.”
Herrmann says physical therapy in these cases may involve developing strategies for particular movement, so patients can avoid injury while maintaining their activity levels.
"Some of these problems aren’t work-through problems, they’re work-around problems,” he says. "But work-arounds can be very successful strategies and people can still wind up where they need to be.”