National Physical Therapy Month: A Safe Way to Manage Pain

Have you ever dislocated a shoulder and needed to make it strong again? Or have you had problems walking because of your knee? If you sought medical treatment, there is a good chance you have been to a physical therapist to help you out.

Physical therapists keep us moving after injuries, surgeries and more. They are experts in the musculoskeletal system. According to the American Physical Therapy Association, physical therapy is known for being a “safer way to manage pain” than medicines like opioids.

This month we celebrate National Physical Therapy Month. It is the perfect time to explain what you can expect from physical therapy and how it has been impacted by COVID-19.

When You Need to Look at Physical Therapy

Physical therapy helps with musculoskeletal health issues, such as the muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones. So if you are having problems with those body parts, a physical therapist is usually an excellent choice to help you get better.

Common reasons to see a physical therapist include having some pain in a body part like your knee, for example, or knowing that you have a potential injury and are not moving as you should.

Physical therapists see a mix of patients who either have hurt themselves, have a chronic injury or need rehabilitation. Physical therapists will usually not see you until any sudden or sharp pains stop, swelling does down, or you can move.

What to Expect When Seeing a Physical Therapist

If you think you need a doctor’s prescription to see a physical therapist, that is not always the case. New Hampshire is a “direct access state.” That means you do not necessarily need to see a medical doctor or primary care physician first.

Once you go, each session has three components:

  1. Assessment and exam
  2. Diagnosis
  3. Treatment plan

Physical therapists will use those three throughout your treatment. For the first visit, expect an examination and a series of questions to help the physical therapist understand your situation.

You will also be evaluated on your strength, flexibility, range of motion and other body assessments. Eventually, you will set goals that you and your therapist will work toward to improve your quality of life.

Not every injury will heal 100 percent, of course. But your therapist will work toward reducing pain, restoring mobility and getting you back to as close to your normal as they can.

You will do this through exercise, massage, therapeutic modalities like heat and ice, and more.

How COVID-19 has Changed Physical Therapy

Like all of healthcare, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on physical therapy. Since physical therapists work closely with patients, they have had to make changes to keep themselves and patients safe yet still provide services.

In-person appointments were put on hold, but clinics are now scheduling people to come in again. At appointments, masks and other personal protective equipment are used in offices. Patients are scheduled further apart. Patients can also be screened by having their temperature taken and filling out a questionnaire to see if they have had a possible COVID exposure or symptoms.

Clinics are also disinfecting surfaces and equipment between patient uses. If the equipment cannot be disinfected, physical therapists will not use it.

Telehealth has also been a great success for many clinics and patients. While there are some limitations in care, patients can still get assessed, and therapists can demonstrate exercises.