Sometimes a physical therapist can seem like a magician, restoring the mobility that you thought was lost long ago.
He does this by helping you tune up muscles you may not have known you had, and these muscles can then help support an arthritic joint. He can also help relieve pain that has kept you from using an arm or leg and teach you exercises to strengthen the damaged limb.
Physical therapists can also prescribe items such as braces or wheelchairs, and can help make your home better suit you. A therapist may suggest grab bars in the bathroom or an elevated toilet seat that is easier to sit down on and get up from, for instance.
All physical therapy programs emphasize exercise. Some exercises are passive, in which the therapist moves your limb for you. In others, you provide some of the motion and the therapist provides the rest. Massage and manipulation are often part of physical therapy.
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In manipulation, the therapist gently stretches and manipulates your stiff joints to increase their range of motion. Some exercises are resistive, which means you are pushing against a weight-which is sometimes just the therapist’s hand.
Other methods of physical therapy also help increase mobility and decrease pain. These include applying heat and cold, such as with heating pads, hot packs, ice bags to reduce swelling, or vapocoolant sprays that numb the skin so a muscle underneath can be gently stretched.
You’ll probably enjoy hydrotherapy in a heated pool or whirlpool: Sinking into the warm water can give wonderful relief And because water helps support your weight, moving in the pool is much easier than when you’re high and dry.
Gentle exercises in warm water can increase your range of motion and improve your circulation and coordination. Or you may use contrast baths-alternating in cold and hot water to decrease the swelling of painful hands or feet.
Other treatment methods physical therapists offer include ultrasound and biofeedback. Ultrasound is high-frequency sound waves that penetrate tissue and raise temperature to relieve pain, particularly around tight muscles and tendons.
Biofeedback uses electrodes attached to your skin and a device that records and relays electrical signals from your muscle fibers as an audible tone. You use these signals to learn to relax or contract almost any muscle in your body, which in turn helps ease pain.
Some physical therapists may also offer TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation), which sends low electrical impulses into painful areas. Although some people believe that TENS eases pain, research studies have actually indicated that this treatment is no more effective than a placebo (a treatment used for comparison that appears the same but actually transmits no current).