What is physical therapy? A quick guide to the basics

What Is Physical Therapy?

With a combination of hands-on techniques, strength and stability exercises, and other therapeutic methods, a physical therapist can help patients overcome a wide range of painful and debilitating conditions. Physical therapy is defined as an allied health profession, which is a broad category of health care disciplines that are outside the scope of medicine and nursing.   

One of the biggest advantages of physical therapy is that it is a form of treatment designed to promote long-term health by actually improving the functioning of the body. By taking steps to increase flexibility, strengthen supporting muscles, relax soft tissue and increase circulation, patients can treat many painful musculoskeletal symptoms at their source. Physical therapy is often integrated with other treatment options to form a holistic care plan.  

The team at Panther Physical Therapy is passionate about helping people get their lives back from pain and other issues, and we believe patient education is a critical first step. So you can better understand how physical therapy can accomplish this, we’ve created the following helpful guide. We’re here to answer any questions you have and help you learn more about the therapies we offer. 

Becoming a physical therapist 

Prospective physical therapists are required to complete a program and receive a degree from an accredited physical therapy school. Modern therapy programs are built around giving students a solid background in clinical sciences and evidence-based practices. It’s important for physical therapists to not only be able to recognize and treat problems within their scope, but also to identify issues with similar symptoms that require care from another health care professional such as a physician. 

To practice physical therapy, therapists must pass a licensing exam given by the state they are operating in. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were approximately 239,800 physical therapists practicing in 2016, with that number expected to grow to over 306,900 by 2026. 

Physical therapists treat a wide range of injuries and conditions

Patients can come to a physical therapist and receive assistance for any number of issues, including auto injuries, sports injuries, workplace injuries, post-surgical rehabilitation, age-related changes, neurological problems and other concerns. Nearly any condition that affects basic functioning or causes musculoskeletal pain can be treated in some way by a physical therapist. Even for nonreversible or incurable conditions, therapists can still help patients learn how to manage symptoms and improve basic functioning

Examples of specific conditions that physical therapists often assist with include: 

  • Neck pain 
  • Jaw pain and TMJ disorders
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Lower back pain, sciatica and other related symptoms
  • Hip pain
  • Knee pain
  • Foot pain
  • Pelvic pain
  • Arthritis and bone spurs
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Balance disorders and vertigo 

Physical therapists can be referred to by physicians or sought out individually by patients, depending on the regulations of a particular state. In Pennsylvania, for example, patients can seek an initial appointment from a physical therapist of their choice without a referral. 

On an initial visit, patients can expect to receive a thorough examination to determine the underlying causes of pain and other symptoms. This typically involves a medical history review, detailed discussion of pain and how it’s affecting normal functioning, and a physical examination with movement, posture and balance testing. With this information, you can begin to start a treatment plan that is right for your state of health and condition. 

Physical therapy methods

Physical therapy works to restore mobility and relieve pain with active and passive techniques that strengthen the body and increase flexibility. Active techniques are those that patients receive guidance on performing themselves, while passive techniques are performed on the patient by the therapist. Active techniques generally include strength, stability and cardiovascular exercises. Examples of passive techniques can include: 

Patient education is also an important aspect of physical therapy. Patients will generally receive instruction regarding exercises and treatments they can perform at home as well as wellness advice regarding staying active, eating a nutritious diet and practicing good posture. 

Physical therapy expertise at Panther Physical Therapy

At our locations in Allison Park, Wexford and Zelienople, Pennsylvania, our qualified and experienced therapists can work with you to develop a custom-tailored treatment plan. Everyone on our team is dedicated to helping the people who come to us for relief get back to the quality of life they deserve. Since 2003, Panther Physical Therapy has been providing clinical excellence, professionalism and compassionate care to the communities we serve. 

Learn more about the full range of our treatment options and schedule your initial appointment when you contact us today.