It’s very common to be in an initial evaluation with a patient and get a question regarding the overall effectiveness of physical therapy. This is understandable, as many times the patients we see don’t have a ton of experience with physical therapy in the past. So, does physical therapy work?
When proper physical therapy protocols are followed for 2-3 months, physical therapy is extremely effective. Whether physical therapy works depends on a number of factors, such as the individual injury, the therapist’s expertise, and the willingness of the patient to be consistent.
In this article, we’ll discuss the reasons that physical therapy works, discuss some of the ways you can make it work for you, and explore whether or not physical therapy is a good option for you.
Understanding Physical Therapy
Physical therapy, often referred to as PT, is a healthcare profession that focuses on improving and restoring the physical function and mobility of individuals who may have been affected by injuries, illnesses, or other health conditions.
The beauty of physical therapy lies in the fact that it tends to be non-invasive, affordable, and simple when compared to more invasive solutions like surgeries.
This is accomplished by utilizing a combination of targeted strength exercises for connective tissues, evidence-based mobility and flexibility work, deep soft tissue massage, and hands-on joint manipulation.
This is typically coupled with a home exercise plan the patient is to complete on their own time, and typically the therapist will supply any equipment needed to complete the program.
Over the course of weeks and months, a patient completes physical therapy sessions to have their exercises progressed and their condition assessed.
How does physical therapy work
Physical therapy works by assessing a patient’s pain or dysfunction and then developing a targeted plan of corrective exercises to support the restoration of functional movement in the affected joint(s).
The goal of physical therapy is for the patient to be able to get on with their life when it’s over! Physical therapists work hard to help you restore any lost function so you can return to the activities you love.
Physical therapists are highly trained in assessing a patient’s pain and looking for the source of the dysfunction. An example of this would be knee pain resulting from a mobility or stability problem in the ankle, or back pain resulting from dysfunctional movement patterns in the hips.
Once the physical therapist has assessed the source of the pain, they begin developing the treatment plan.
The science behind physical therapy
Physical therapy is rooted in scientific principles and evidence-based practice. Here are some key factors that highlight physical therapy’s effectiveness:
Assessment and Diagnosis
Physical therapists begin by conducting a thorough assessment to understand the patient’s condition, limitations, and goals. This assessment involves evaluating a patient’s range of motion, strength, balance, and pain levels, all while taking into consideration the patient’s medical history.
Personalized Treatment Plans
Based on the assessment, we develop personalized treatment plans tailored to each patient’s unique needs and goals.
This individualized approach ensures that the treatment is specific and effective for the individual, as no two plans are the same.
As physical therapists, we rely on scientific research and clinical evidence to inform their treatment decisions. They stay up-to-date with the latest advancements in their field and use evidence-based techniques to maximize patient outcomes.
Education and Empowerment
Physical therapists don’t just provide treatment; we also educate patients about their condition and teach them self-management techniques.
Since we know that we won’t be working with our patients forever, our goal is that you will be able to maintain your health over the long haul.
When to choose physical therapy
Physical therapy is a targeted approach, and there are certain types of conditions that respond best. Some of the conditions that physical therapy works best for include:
Conditions that require pain management
Physical therapy can be highly effective in managing pain, whether it’s related to chronic pain conditions, post-surgery recovery, or musculoskeletal injuries.
Through techniques like manual therapy and therapeutic exercises, physical therapists can help reduce pain and improve overall function.
Conditions that require improved mobility in a joint
Physical therapy aims to restore and enhance mobility and flexibility over time. It is particularly beneficial for individuals recovering from injuries, surgeries, or conditions that affect their ability to move. PT can help people regain their independence and quality of life.
Prevention and Avoidance of Surgery
In some cases, physical therapy can eliminate the need for surgery or postpone it. By strengthening muscles, improving joint stability, and addressing biomechanical issues, PT can help individuals avoid surgical interventions.
How long does it take for physical therapy to work
Many patients experience some level of improvement within the first few weeks of starting physical therapy. This initial progress can include reduced pain, increased range of motion, and enhanced strength.
Most patients see significant progress within 2-3 months of beginning physical therapy, as long as they are consistent with keeping their appointments, resting properly, and completing their home exercises. This is the case for most simple conditions that require basic interventions like strengthening and functional mobility work.
For more complex or long-term conditions, it sometimes takes 4-6 months. If you’re wondering how long it will take you to recover from your condition, ask your physical therapist when you see them next.
A note about early progress
Early improvements, such as those mentioned in the last section, can be motivating and serve as an indicator that the physical therapy treatment is working. However, we often caution our patients not to relent on their efforts as soon as they start making progress.
The healing process takes time, and initial pain reduction is a great indicator that you should continue doing what you’re doing.
If you feel that you’re not making progress
Every so often, a patient struggles to make progress in physical therapy. If you’re someone who believes that physical therapy isn’t working for you, make sure to discuss this concern with your physical therapist, and take a look at our guide: what if physical therapy doesn’t work?
While it’s sometimes the case that a patient has been misdiagnosed or that a different intervention needs to be implemented, it’s often true that simple tweaks to the exercise plan or a renewed commitment to consistency fixes the problem.
Yes, physical therapy works!
In summary, physical therapy is a highly effective healthcare profession with a solid foundation in science and evidence-based practice. It plays a crucial role in improving the lives of individuals affected by injuries, illnesses, or other health conditions.
Physical therapy can help individuals manage pain, regain mobility, prevent surgery, and ultimately lead healthier, more fulfilling lives. Always consult with a qualified physician or doctor of physical therapy to discuss your specific needs and develop a personalized treatment plan.