The Vital Role of Physical Therapy in Orthopedic Healthcare

Physical Rehabilitation, Sports Medicine


Physical therapy is often the first line of treatment for orthopedic conditions or injuries. Learn why it’s so important.

Whether you’ve suffered an acute injury or are dealing with chronic joint pain, you may believe your only option is surgery. But it isn’t. In fact, for many orthopedic conditions, your first line of treatment will be physical therapy, which in many instances can help you avoid surgery.

Physical therapy addresses issues within the musculoskeletal system, which includes the joints, bones, muscles, ligaments, and connective tissue. Physical therapists work closely with orthopedists to help patients overcome pain, improve joint mobility, and prevent further injury. As such, physical therapists play an important role in orthopedic healthcare.

How physical therapy can help orthopedic patients

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are currently 229,740 physical therapists working in the U.S. Each has been trained to help patients recover from orthopedic injuries or chronic conditions, such as arthritis or Parkinson’s disease.

The goal of physical therapy is to assist patients in achieving their normal function without discomfort or restrictions. Physical therapists do this by performing a number of tasks, including:

Evaluation. Is the pain coming from a joint injury or muscle tear? After a thorough evaluation, a physical therapist can pinpoint the exact source of the pain and develop a plan to reduce it.

Pain management. Chronic conditions such as arthritis and tendonitis can make doing everyday tasks difficult and painful. Often, patients rely on pain medication, which has the potential to be addictive. With physical therapy, patients are taught to move in ways to lessen pain and reduce the need for medication.

Rehabilitation. After an acute injury or surgery, physical therapy can help patients increase their range of motion, strengthen weakened muscles, and manage their pain and swelling. Physical therapy after hip or knee replacement surgery can break up scar tissue that can hamper mobility and get patients back on their feet again.

Prevention. As mentioned earlier, physical therapy is typically the first line of treatment for orthopedic injuries rather than surgery. By undergoing physical therapy, patients can often delay surgery or avoid it altogether. Physical therapy can also prevent injuries and pain by showing patients how to perform everyday activities or sporting moves using the proper form and posture.

Treatments used by physical therapists

Once a physical therapist has developed a plan to treat a patient, their next step is implementing it. Based on the individual needs of the patient, a physical therapist can employ a variety of tools. Here are just a few treatment modalities at their fingertips:

Exercise. A physical therapist guides the patient through a series of exercises to help them regain strength and flexibility. The patient can do these exercises at home after instruction from the physical therapist.

Manual massage. The physical therapist massages the muscles, ligaments, and soft tissue to break up any adhesions and relieve stiffness.

Hot/cold therapy. Following an injury, a combination of hot and cold therapy can reduce pain and swelling.

Electrical stimulation. An electrical stimulation (e-stim) device applied to the area being treated can cut down pain. One type of e-stim therapy, TENS or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, uses a low-voltage electrical current to block pain receptors from reaching your brain. NMES, or neuromuscular electrical stimulation, sends electrical impulses to the nerves so the muscles contract. The contractions are believed to improve blood flow and therefore help muscles heal.

Hydrotherapy. A physical therapist may recommend water therapy to treat orthopedic injuries. The gentle resistance and buoyancy provided by water reduces the impact on joints and as a result, helps them recover.

Physical therapy is an effective treatment for nearly all orthopedic injuries or conditions. Find one you are comfortable with and work out a plan to get you pain-free.

Your one-stop office for physical therapy and orthopedic care

At All Sports Physical Therapy, our physical therapists are trained in diagnosing and treating all forms of musculoskeletal injuries and conditions. Our sister practice, New York Bone & Joint Specialists, can also help patients recover post-surgery. If you are experiencing pain, contact us today for an evaluation.

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