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Physical Therapy Center

Physical therapists (PTs) are healthcare professionals who treat patients of all ages with back or neck disorders. Your primary care physician, physiatrist, orthopaedist, spine surgeon, or neurosurgeon may refer you to a physical therapist as part of your non-operative plan of treatment. An organized physical therapy program may be an integral part of your after-care following spine surgery. PTs practice in many different settings such as outpatient clinics, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and nursing homes.

Goals of Physical Therapy
The primary goals of physical therapy include: improve and maintain functional ability, build physical strength and endurance, increase flexibility, reduce pain, and prevent disability. PTs also teach patients how to exercise to improve overall physical fitness, move about safely (biomechanics and ergonomics), and injury prevention. Physical therapists also help patients with permanent physical disabilities (eg, spinal cord injury).

Physical therapy may include passive modalities; treatments the PT administers to the patient. Modalities include ultrasound, different types of massage, myofascial release, ice and/or heat. Some of these treatments may be administered before active therapeutic exercise.

Spine-related conditions physical therapists treat include:

  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Sciatica
  • Spondylosis (spinal arthritis)
  • Whiplash
  • Rebuild strength, flexibility and endurance after spine surgery, as well as specific physical needs related to surgical aftercare.

Coordinated Care
Your physical therapist may work directly for or with your doctor to coordinate aspects of your physical treatment. For example, your doctor may send the physical therapist relevant portions of your chart, such as your diagnosis, current medications, and results of imaging studies.  

During the initial consultation, the physical therapist talks with you about your medical history, diagnosis, and symptoms. Many patients with a back or neck disorder experience acute, chronic, and/or episodic pain. The location, severity, type, and factors that decrease or increase pain are important, and the PT will ask you many questions about pain.

Education and Clinical Training
Physical therapists are healthcare professionals who have completed an accredited physical therapy program and passed a state licensing examination. In the United States, physical therapy programs are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. The program includes academic learning, medical ethics, and evidence-based medicine with clinical application outside the classroom. After graduation, a PT may advance knowledge and experience by participating in areas of their interest. Now all physical therapists graduate with a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. 

Through the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties, a PT can become a board certified specialist in a specific area such as orthopaedics, pediatrics, or geriatrics. There are many areas of specialization.

Choosing a Physical Therapist
Many states allow you to go to a physical therapist without a doctor’s referral. Although you can certainly ask your doctor for a recommendation, what questions should you keep in mind about selecting a physical therapist? Listed below are some questions to consider.

  • What is the physical therapist’s educational and training background?
  • Does the physical therapist regularly treat patients with my problem?
  • Is the physical therapist in my insurance network?
  • How many times per week do I need physical therapy?
  • Will the physical therapist provide me with a customized home exercise plan?
  • Am I more comfortable with a male or female physical therapist?

Taking Charge
Keep in mind that a physical therapist is a valuable healthcare professional and member of your medical team. While physical therapy may be challenging or demanding in the beginning, PT offers you many benefits. It is an opportunity to take charge of your back or neck pain, while building a stronger more resilient body.

Source:
American Association of Physical Therapists. www.apta.org

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Updated on: 06/09/14
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