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Physical therapists help people live healthier, more active lives by providing rehabilitation services that meet their specific needs. Physical therapy (PT) is a vital component in preventive health care, and recovery encourages overall well-being and reduces the risk of chronic disease. 

But how can it be beneficial to you? And should you look into starting a physical therapy program? Dr. Michael Mitacchione, DPT at Summit Health advises us on the importance of physical therapy and how it can work for individuals at any age. 

The Types of Physical Therapy

Physical therapists treat a wide variety of patients with ailments and pathologies ranging from sports injuries to neurological issues.  Physical therapists are experts in assessing weaknesses, movement disorders, and range-of-motion issues that can affect a person's ability to perform normal daily tasks. The main types of physical therapy specialties are as follows:

  • Pediatric physical therapy helps address birth and genetic defects, as well as developmental delays, and promotes general wellness in children. 
  • Geriatric physical therapy focuses on weakened muscles, correcting posture, and preventing injuries due to aging.
  • Orthopedic physical therapy involves treatment of injuries to muscles, joints, and connective tissue, either before or after surgery. It can also be used to prevent patients from needing surgery. 
  • Cardiopulmonary physical therapy is for severe heart and lung conditions—such as heart failure and chronic bronchitis—and helps improve breathing capacity.
  • Vestibular rehabilitation is for people with dizziness and balance-related issues usually associated with an inner ear disorder.
  • Neurological physical therapy specializes in neurological disease or illnesses such as Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis, helping people regain lost functions (walking, climbing stairs, and getting in/out of bed, etc.).

What Are the Benefits of Physical Therapy?

Anyone who has suffered an injury or has some type of physical disability or limitation can benefit from physical therapy, as it supports the body in healing itself. "People who have pain or issues performing normal activities like walking or climbing stairs should seek the advice of a physical therapist," Dr. Mitacchione notes. "Even those who experience pain performing higher-level recreational activities or sports should see a therapist before the issue worsens."

Some benefits of physical therapy include:

  • Correcting abnormal movement patterns and improving mobility
  • Preventing the build-up of scar tissue and relieving pain
  • Reducing strain on the joints and strengthening muscles

Physical therapy can also help patients avoid surgery and other invasive procedures. "We usually have a better idea if the patient can avoid surgery after one to two weeks of therapy. Strengthening the muscles and stretching the joints will help many patients, even if there is a positive finding on an MRI," Dr. Mitacchione says.

What to Expect From a Physical Therapy Program

A physical therapy program is customized to the patient's needs and goals, so trust your therapist to take a three-pronged approach to your treatment plan—hands-on care, patient education, and prescriptive exercise.

"The therapist will always perform an evaluation or assess the patient's strength, range of motion, and areas of pain to develop an appropriate plan to either get them back to optimal performance or, if need be, teach them how to function with new limitations," says Dr. Mitacchione. Once the patient finishes their therapy program, he adds, they will usually have an exercise program to continue at-home progression. "Being active after physical therapy is an important part of maintaining a patient's post-therapy status."