You may ask yourself this if your doctor has referred for physical therapy. It mainly gives you back your strength, mobility, and confidence, and prevents future recurrence of the injury. And it does this in several ways.

A Breakdown Of Physical Therapy Methods


    The physical therapy profession draws on different disciplines and includes specializations like geriatric, women’s health, orthopedic, cardiopulmonary, and others. Each deals with different health issues, and the treatment methods and how to combine them will vary too.

Exercise therapy includes stretching, strengthening, endurance, and coordination. It is the main part of most physical therapy plans. Most of the surgeries, illnesses, or injuries that require therapy create some kind of weakness, and strong bones and muscles are vital to preventing further problems.

Manual therapy involves your therapist applying pressure with their hands to affected areas. This is mostly used when pain or immobility is highly localized and pressure in just the right spot can reduce pain or enhance flexibility.

Physical agents, also called “modalities,” are passive techniques which many therapists believe can help healing. These include electrical stimulation, dry needling, laser therapy, and ultrasound.

  • Deep Tissue Laser Therapy triggers a reaction in the cells of an affected area that speeds up the healing process. It is non-invasive, and in some cases may be a substitute for surgery or mediation.
  • Dry Needling, often confused with acupuncture, is the insertion of sterile needles into certain tight muscle areas or “trigger points” that are causing pain or reducing mobility, but which are too deep to be reachable by manual therapy.
  • Electrical Stimulation, or e-stim, is the administration so small electrical jolts, usually to control involuntary spasms, or to contract muscles that would be hard to exercise any other way.
  • Ultrasound therapy uses sound waves above the level of human hearing try to stimulate muscle cells into renewing faster.

Why Don’t I Just Use Physical Agents?

These passive options sound attractive. After all, they are innovative, exercise therapy takes effort and patience. But it would be a mistake to contrast them as competing methods. All therapy takes a while to produce noticeable results, and passive methods will almost always work best in conjunction with exercise. A research paper for the Journal of Clinical Oncology said that


Therapeutic exercise, often in conjunction with other modalities and designed to assist in obtaining specific goals, may be the most effective treatment in the rehabilitation armamentarium. … As a result, therapeutic exercises aimed at enhancing the strength and stamina of the core musculature and muscles capable of splinting a painful body part can be remarkably effective adjuncts to conventional analgesia.

The value of going to a trained and licensed physical therapist is that whatever your needs, he or she can craft a treatment program, combining some or all of the above methods, and specifically designed to help you heal in the right way and at your own pace.

On the whole, if your doctor thinks you should go to therapy, and your therapist thinks exercise therapy should be an important part of your treatment plan, it’s probably best just to go into it with a positive attitude and a desire to get better.

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