Physical Therapy: Definition, Types, Health Benefits, and More


According to Web MD physical therapy (PT) can help manage movement and reduce pain in people with neurological disease, those who have had a traumatic injury and other conditions. Trained professionals evaluate and take measures to enhance a person’s physical function.

What is Physical Therapy?

According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) Physical therapists are trained and licensed movement experts. So they can diagnose and treat a range of injuries, disabilities, and health conditions. Physical therapy aims to improve a person’s range of movements and quality of life and prevent further injury or disability. Licensed physical therapists work in a range of healthcare settings, including outpatient offices, private practices, hospitals, rehabilitation, centers, nursing homes, health, sports and fitness settings, schools, hospices, occupational settings, government agencies, and research centers.

What are the Types of Physical Therapy?

A physical therapist helps take care of patients in all phases of healing from initial diagnosis to restorative and preventive stages of recovery. So physical therapy may be a standalone option or it may support other treatments. Because some patients are referred to a physical therapist by a doctor while others seek therapy themselves. According to the World Confederation for Physical Therapy a physical therapist receives training that enables them to:

  • Conduct a physical exam and evaluation of a person’s movement, flexibility, muscle and joint motion and performance including finding out about their health history.
  • Give a clinical diagnosis, prognosis, and plan of care with short and long term goals.
  • Perform physical therapist treatment and intervention
  • Give self-management recommendations including exercises a person can do at home

Apart from physical manipulation, physical therapist treatment may involve:

Lontophoresis: This uses an electrical current to deliver certain medications such as topical steroids. This can decrease the presence of inflammation.

Electrical Stimulation (e-stim):  There are two types of e-stim. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation reduces pain. By contrast neuromuscular electrical stimulation works to stimulate muscular motor units to improve muscular engagement.

Heat Moist, Heat and Cold Therapy: These may provide benefits to a range of conditions.

Light Therapy: This involves using special lights and lasers to treat certain medical conditions.

Common Conditions Physical Therapy may Help With:

Physical therapists can provide supplementary treatment to a wide variety of medical conditions depending on their specialty. Although physical therapists may not directly and independently treat medical conditions other than pure musculoskeletal conditions they work to optimize recovery or educate a person on how to optimize their movement patterns. Some conditions that would benefits from physical therapy are:

  • Cardiopulmonary conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cystic fibrosis, and post-myocardial infarction heart failure.
  • Conditions that affect the hand such as carpal tunnel syndrome and trigger finger.
  • Musculoskeletal dysfunction including back pain, rotator cuff tears, and temporomandibular joint disorder.
  • Neurological conditions such as stroke, spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, vestibular dysfunction and traumatic brain injuries.
  • Pediatric conditions including cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy.
  • Sports-related injuries such as concussion and tennis elbow.
  • Female health and pelvic floor dysfunction, including urinary incontinence and lymphedema.
  • Skin conditions or injuries, such as burns, wound care and diabetic ulcers.

What are the Health Benefits of Physical Therapy?

Depending on the reason for treatment the benefits of physical therapy may include:

  • Pain management with reduced need for opioids
  • Avoiding surgery
  • Support neurological condition
  • Reduce symptoms related to arthritis
  • Reduce complications related to pelvic dysfunction
  • Shorten post surgery recovery
  • Improved mobility and movement
  • Recovery from injury or trauma
  • Recovery from stroke or paralysis
  • Fall prevention
  • Improved balance
  • Management of age-related medical problems

A sports therapist can help an athlete maximize their performance by strengthening specific parts of the body and using muscles in new ways. A physical therapist or other healthcare professionals can advise individuals about the benefits specific to their personal medical history and their need for treatment.

What are the Types of Physical Therapy?

There are many types of physical therapy and therapists often choose to specialize. These types include:

Orthopedic Physical Therapy:

This treats musculoskeletal injuries involving the muscle, bones, ligaments, fascia, and tendons. It is suitable for conditions such as fractures, sprains tendinitis, bursitis, and chronic health problems and rehabilitation or recovery from orthopedic surgery. Patients may undergo treatment with joint mobilizations, manual therapy, strength, mobility training, and other modalities.

Geriatric Physical Therapy:

This can help older adults who develop conditions that affect their mobility and physical function, including arthritis, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer’s disease hip and joint replacement, balance, disorders and incontinence. This type of intervention aims to restore mobility, reduce pain, and increase physical fitness level.

Neurological Physical Therapy:

This can help people with neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, brain injury, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury and stroke. Treatment may aim to increase limb responsiveness, improve movement patterns, manage tone, improve strength and promote balance.

Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation:

This can benefit people affected by some cardiopulmonary conditions and surgical procedures. Treatment can increase muscular and cardiovascular endurance and stamina.

Wound Care Therapy:

This can help ensure that a healing wound is receiving adequate oxygen and blood by way of improved circulation. Physical therapy may include the use of manual therapists, e-stim, compression therapy, and wound care.

Vestibular Therapy:

This aims to treat balance problems that can result from inner ear conditions. Vestibular physical therapy involves a number of exercise and manual techniques that can help patients regain their balance and coordination.

Decongestive Therapy:

This can help drain accumulated fluid in patients with lymphedema and other conditions that involve fluid accumulation.

Pelvic Floor Rehabilitation:

This can help treat conditions that affect the pelvic floor such as, urinary or fecal incontinence, or urinary urgency and pelvic pain as a result of injuries or surgery or because of certain conditions.

What is Pediatric Physical Therapy?

Pediatric physical therapy aims to diagnose, treat and manage conditions that affect infants, children, and adolescents. Such conditions may include:

  • Developmental delays
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Spina bifida
  • Torticollis
  • Other conditions that impact the musculoskeletal system

It’s work to improve mobility, alleviate pain, develop or restore function and prevent or decrease permanent physical abilities. They work closely with children and their families and caregivers to improve a child’s ability to function independently and actively at home and at school.

Training to be a Physical Therapist:

For a person to practice as a physical therapist in the United States, they need to earn a doctor of (PT) degree and pass a state licensure exam.

Physical therapist study areas that include:

  • Biology
  • Anatomy
  • Cellular histology
  • Physiology
  • Exercise physiology
  • Biomechanics
  • Kinesiology
  • Neuroscience
  • Pharmacology
  • Pathology
  • Behavioral science
  • Cardiovascular studies
  • Pulmonary, endocrine, metabolic, and musculoskeletal studies

They can specialize in fields such as:

  • Cardiovascular and pulmonary health
  • Clinical electrophysiology
  • Health for older adults
  • Neurology, orthopedics, pediatrics, and sports physical therapy

What is Occupational Therapy? Everything you Need to Know About it

It is a healthcare profession. It focuses on helping people do all the things that they want and need to do in their daily lives. These might include:

  • Work
  • School
  • Hobbies
  • Social situations
  • Household tasks

A doctor might refer someone to an occupational therapist if they have acquired a disability, are recovering from a medical event, such as a stroke or have had an operation. By helping people carry out their daily activities, occupational therapy aims to promote health and improve quality of life. Occupational therapists work to help develop, recover, and improve while maintaining the skills that they need to live their lives.

What do Occupational Therapists do?

OTs offer practical advice and support to help people carry out their daily activities. Their work centers on adapting a person’s environment so that it better suits them and the things they want and need to do. OTs work with lots of people of all ages. Common examples of what they do include:

  • Helping people going through physical changes to carry on working
  • Helping people experiencing changes in how they think or remember things to carry on working
  • Helping children with disabilities fully participate in school
  • Helping people with disabilities take part in social situations, hobbies, or sports

According to the American Occupational Therapy Association therapist will:

  • Work with the person and their family to identify their goals
  • Design a custom intervention, or plan, that will help the person perform their everyday activities and reach their goals
  • Check to see whether the person in meeting their goals and make any necessary changes to the plan
  • Most occupational therapists will have a master’s degree in the subject and all must receive a license to operate.

Occupational Therapy vs. Physical Therapy:

People often confuse occupational therapy and physical therapy because specialists in both areas work with similar groups of people and offer practical support. However, these types of therapy are different. Occupational therapy focuses on improving people’s ability to perform the tasks that they need to do in their everyday life. Physical therapy is different because it focuses on helping people improve their movement. PTs are movement experts who improve quality of life for people with specific movement dysfunctions. They do this through:

  • Prescribing specific exercises
  • Providing hands-on care
  • Educating people on the affected area of their body

After making a diagnosis, PTs create personalized plans that help people:

  • Improve their mobility such as for those with stiff joints or muscles
  • Manage pain and other chronic conditions such as persistent back pain & fibromyalgia
  • Recover from injury or surgery
  • Prevent further injuries
  • Both OTs and PTs work with people on an individual level and develop plans to help them reach their targets.

What to know about Osteopathic Manipulative Therapy?

It is a treatment option for chronic pain. Although its use appears to be relatively low overall, it is a common treatment for lower back pain. A doctor of osteopathy is qualified to perform OMT. These specialists have studied osteopathy techniques and undergone special training in the body’s musculoskeletal system and the interconnected system of nerves, muscles, and bone. A (DO) is also sometimes known as an osteopathy physician.

What is OMT?

OMT is a hands-on treatment method that can help diagnose, prevent, and treat a variety of conditions. When carrying out OMT, a DO will use a number of different techniques that move, stretch, and manipulate a person’s muscles and joints. Because medical professionals often split OMT techniques into three categories.

  • Direct
  • Indirect
  • Combined

Because these techniques involve DOs moving the person’s limbs into different positions. The DO may also apply pressure to limbs and manipulate the person’s body to stretch muscles and properly align their joints.

Who Needs OMT?

It is a treatment option for chronic pain relating to many different causes. Because people with lower back pain or neck pain are the people mostly likely to require OMT. However, many people receive OMT for a wide and varied range of medical conditions. Pregnant people can also benefit from OMT. A DO can use OMT to help these individuals deal with pelvic and lower back pain, both during and after their pregnancy.

What Conditions does OMT Treat?

A person can receive OMT to help treat various conditions, including:

  • Asthma
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Musculoskeletal problems
  • Chronic pain
  • Headaches and migraine
  • Pregnancy-related issues

What to Expect?

Before a person receives OMT, a DO will assess their specific needs. Because a DO may ask the person about their:

  • Symptoms
  • Lifestyle
  • Medical history
  • Other health issues
  • Diet
  • Sleep habits
  • Mental health
  • Physical activity levels

What to know about Muscle Atrophy?

It can occur after a long period of inactivity. If a muscle does not get any use, the body will eventually break it down to conserve energy. So muscle atrophy that develops due to inactivity can occur if a person remains immobile while they recover from an illness or injury. Getting regular exercise and trying physical therapy may reverse this form of muscle atrophy. Because some people can treat muscle atrophy by making certain lifestyle changes, trying physical therapy, or undergoing surgery. Now we will discuss causes, symptoms and treatments of muscle atrophy.


Many factors can cause muscle atrophy, including:

  • Poor nutrition
  • Age
  • Genetics
  • Medical conditions
  • Neurological problems


The symptoms of muscle atrophy vary widely depending on the cause and severity of muscle loss. In addition to reduced muscle mass, symptoms of muscle atrophy include:

  • Having one arm or leg that is noticeably smaller than the others
  • Experiencing weakness in one limb or generally
  • Having difficulty balancing
  • Remaining inactive for an extended period


Treatment of muscle atrophy include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Functional electrical stimulation
  • Focused ultrasound therapy
  • Surgery


How does physical therapy help?

The focus of physical therapy is to help improve or restore mobility, strength, movement, range of motion, overall functioning and quality of life. It also aims to decrease pain and prevent further injuries.

What benefits come with physical therapy?

  • Pain management
  • Avoiding surgery
  • Reduced need for prescription drugs
  • Improved mobility and movement
  • Injury recovery or prevention
  • Recovery from stroke or paralysis
  • Fall prevention
  • Manage age-related medical issues

What can a physiotherapist help with?

Physiotherapists help to restore movement and function when someone is affected by injury, illness, or disability. It can also help to reduce your risk of injury or illness in the future. So it takes a holistic approach that involves the patient directly in their own care.

Why is physical therapy so effective?

Physical therapy will help strengthen the muscles associated with your injury as well as surrounding muscles. Often, strength imbalances lead to injury. Physical therapy helps improve post-surgical outcomes by addressing pain, scar tissues, strength, range of motion and more.

Does a physiotherapist do massage?

Manual therapy is a technique where a physiotherapist uses their hands to manipulate, mobiles and massage the body tissues. This can help relieve pain and stiffness. Improve blood circulation. 

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