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Whether you’re dealing with an acute injury, post-surgery rehab, or a chronic condition that impacts physical function, physical therapy can help get you back on track and feeling good again.

Here, we’ll take a closer look at the benefits of physical therapy and share some tips on getting the most out of your sessions.

Physical therapy is a type of rehabilitative care that focuses on diagnosing and treating injuries, chronic and acute conditions, and movement dysfunction. In many cases, it is considered a conservative approach to dealing with various musculoskeletal problems.

Physical therapists are health professionals who use targeted techniques and treatments to restore mobility, improve range of motion, decrease pain, and improve physical function.

According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), a physical therapist can diagnose and treat conditions that affect your musculoskeletal system.

More specifically, physical therapists are trained to work with people of all ages through the use of prescribed exercise, manual therapy, and patient education.

The focus of physical therapy is to help improve or restore mobility, strength, movement, range of motion, overall functioning, and quality of life. It also aims to decrease pain and prevent further injuries.

Physical therapy can occur in outpatient clinics, hospitals, rehab centers, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, schools, sports and fitness settings, and occupational settings.

There are countless reasons to see a physical therapist, including pain management, injury prevention, injury rehabilitation, better mobility, and management of chronic conditions. More specifically, here are six benefits of physical therapy backed by science.

1. Rehab from a sports-related injury

Not all sports-related injuries require surgery. But to prevent further damage, they do need targeted interventions that can decrease pain, strengthen the injured area, and help you get back to competition.

According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease, treatment of a more severe sports injury may require physical therapy for rehabilitation or fitting for a brace, cast, or splint.

A physical therapist can design a plan to help rebuild the injured area’s range of motion and strength. This may include targeted exercises, massage therapy, aquatic therapy, ultrasound, or cold and heat therapy to help strengthen muscles and joints and prevent further injury.

2. Reduce pain

Some pain requires prescription medications or surgery to improve, while other types of pain can benefit from physical therapy and exercise. Acute pain generally has a known cause and starts suddenly. However, it often gets better with time, treatment, and healing.

Chronic pain, on the other hand, lasts more than 3 months and is typically caused by an injury, disease, inflammation, medical treatment, or in some cases, an unknown reason. Opioids and other powerful drugs are often recommended for pain management.

But recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggested physical therapy as an effective option for managing pain instead of opioids.

Examples of physical therapy techniques used to reduce acute and chronic pain include therapeutic exercises, stretching, electrical stimulation, ultrasound, taping, cold and heat therapy, and massage.

3. Support neurological conditions

Physical therapy techniques may help support symptoms caused by neurological conditions such as stroke, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and issues related to spinal cord injuries.

A 2017 review found that 4 weeks of gait training or 8 weeks of balance training can have positive effects that last for 3 to 12 months after physical therapy sessions ended.

More specifically, researchers saw a reduction of falls for up to 12 months and an improvement in gait performance and walking capacity for up to 6 months after training.

A physical therapist can also assist with symptom management for people living with multiple sclerosis. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, common symptoms physical therapy can help with include balance, weakness, coordination, spasticity and flexibility, aerobic endurance, fatigue, and respiratory function.

In-hospital physical therapy programs can assist with stroke rehabilitation and spine injury treatment before a person leaves the hospital, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

4. Reduce symptoms related to arthritis

Joint inflammation, pain, tenderness, swelling, and stiffness can be debilitating symptoms caused by rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. However, physical therapy may help reduce symptom severity and boost overall quality of life.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, physical therapy can help improve mobility and restore the use of affected joints, increase overall strength to help support joints, and maintain fitness levels.

5. Reduce complications related to pelvic floor dysfunction

Pregnancy and birth can do a number on your pelvic floor muscles. So might menopause, abdominal surgeries, and other conditions that may change intra-abdominal pressure or the tension of the pelvic floor muscles.

When the damage is significant, the pelvic floor muscles weaken and lose the ability to fully support the pelvic organs, causing urinary leakage, low back pain, sexual dysfunction, pelvic pressure, and prolapse.

Pelvic floor dysfunction can interrupt daily life. The good news is pelvic floor physical therapy, or PFPT, can help. According to a 2019 review, PFPT as a treatment for pelvic floor dysfunction has clear benefits as a first-line treatment for most pelvic floor disorders.

6. Shorten post-surgery recovery

Your doctor may recommend physical therapy in the weeks following surgery. Depending on the injury, surgical procedure, and overall health, treatment can last from a few weeks to several months.

Orthopedic physical therapy is designed to improve the range of motion, reduce pain, prevent excessive scar tissue buildup, and regain normal functioning after musculoskeletal surgery.

For example, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends physical therapy to help with a full recovery from surgery, restore strength, and allow for a gradual return to everyday activities.

What’s more, several studies have demonstrated that early mobilization and physical therapy for critically ill patients who were hospitalized led to a better quality of life, higher likelihood of walking longer distances, and better muscle function upon discharge.

7. Manage pain

Researchers have been exploring the link between physical therapy and a reduction in opioid use for patients managing chronic pain.

One large study examined people with new-onset chronic low back pain, and found that early physical therapy interventions decreased opioid use in both the short term and long term.

Another study — which also examined the use of physical therapy for chronic low back pain — found opioids were prescribed less often during follow up healthcare visits when patients were referred to and participated in physical therapy.

Physical therapy is effective for many acute and chronic conditions. However, it requires the therapist and patient to work together for maximum benefits. Here are five tips to help you get the most out of physical therapy.

Take an active role

Taking an active role in your treatment is essential. If possible, choose a physical therapist that best matches your needs. Then, come to your first appointment with any records or notes from your doctor or other healthcare professionals. It’s also a good idea to bring a list of questions or goals you have for treatment.

Ask questions

Your physical therapist is there to help. Part of the process is patient education and being available to answer questions. This includes questions about treatment duration, the number of visits per week or month, and what to expect during sessions and after treatment is over.

Do your homework

Physical therapists commonly give at-home exercises to do between sessions. These exercises are designed to supplement the work you do during appointments. Performing the home workouts helps with consistency and repetition. It also allows the physical therapist to see how you progress on your own.

Speak up during sessions

The physical therapy team is there to help you get better. In order to be successful, they need you to be honest during and between sessions.

So, what does this mean for you? Speak up if you feel pain or discomfort while performing a specific exercise. Let them know if something is not working. They can use that information to adjust your exercise routine or change the physical therapy techniques being used.

Follow the physical therapist’s guidance

It’s critical that you listen to the advice and guidance a physical therapist provides. If they tell you to refrain from certain activities, it’s in your best interest to do so.

If you’re active and eager to return to exercise or a sport, wait until you’re given the green light. Your therapist knows how to best treat your injury and when to clear you for activity.

Physical therapy has numerous benefits, such as improving mobility and physical function, rehabilitation and prevention of future injuries, and reducing pain or other symptoms related to an acute or chronic injury or condition.

Your doctor or other healthcare professional can write a referral for physical therapy. Or, you may be able to self-refer, depending on your insurance.

Once you’re established with a physical therapist, make sure to ask questions and provide feedback if something is not working. It’s also critical to follow the treatment plan, especially between sessions.

With open communication and active participation, you’ll surely reap the benefits of physical therapy.