Isn't All Physical Therapy the Same?

Physical therapists are highly trained health care professionals whose goals are to maintain health, preserve and improve mobility, and decrease pain.  This may involve stretches to improve flexibility, exercises to improve strength and balance, drills to develop coordination, postural education, and treatments to minimize pain.

 

The ultimate goal is to allow the patient to have a normal or improved lifestyle, unhindered by pain, loss of motion, or weakness.  We want the patient to be as functional as possible, that is to be able to get through their day and enjoy their life to the fullest.

 

However everybody is built differently.  Just as some are short and others are tall, those that are young and those that are old, home do-it-yourselfers versus the athletic, the needs of a given patient are unique.  Each patient’s body may respond differently to the same therapeutic approach.

 

That is why having access to a therapist who is knowledgeable, trained, and skilled in a variety of therapeutic techniques is extremely valuable.  If your only tool is hammer, then everything is nail.  You want a full toolbox with many different tools to choose from. A physical medicine doctor or physiatrist can help sort out what type of “tool” you need.

 

Physical therapists deal with musculoskeletal issues.  This involves the joints; the capsules around the joints; the muscles, ligaments, and tendons; the fascia or connective tissue that surrounds the muscles.   Additionally they deal with the nervous system which controls how you hold and use your muscles, which in turn determines how you move your joints.

 

Your nerves and muscles work together as a team and therefore must be treated together.  Pain causes your nervous system to signal your muscles to guard and tighten.  By protecting that painful body part, you guard against re-injury or aggravation.  However if you guard for a long time, your muscles become weaker, stiffer, and can actually prolong the discomfort and pain.  You also start moving differently and typically with less efficiency as you protect that injured or painful body part.

 

There are physical therapists that specialize in sports injuries, occupational injuries, neurologic disease such as a stroke, neuromuscular disease like Guillain Barre, and amputees, to name a few. Then there are subsets of therapists that specialize in certain rehabilitation techniques, such as manual physical therapists.

 

Manual therapy is a “hands on approach” versus the traditional physical therapy “hands off approach.”  Using their hands, the P.T. identifies the specific muscles and/or joints that are causing the problem. Adept and experienced hands provide information that no other assessment tool can replicate. Once the neuromuscular dysfunction and the source of the pain is determined, the therapist is able to treat the problem more effectively. Without proper balance in your muscles and joints, exercising the painful area will only worsen the dysfunction. It is important to eliminate the dysfunction first, then provide the proper exercises to stretch and strengthen the restricted and weak muscles.

 

Manual therapy techniques, such as muscle energy, soft tissue mobilization/myofascial release, strain/counterstrain, and craniosacral therapy, allow the therapist to fix the dysfunction in the neuromuscular system.  Through these techniques, individual muscles can be relaxed and retrained;  proper motion and alignment of joints is restored.  Tight and painful muscles respond much better to an exercise program when skeletal malalignment or tightness is eliminated. Injuries then heal faster and better. Only then can full recovery and injury prevention can occur.

 

If you have a nagging injury, a painful back, a sore neck, or a stiff joint and it is not going away after seeing other health care providers, consider making an appointment to see Frank Y. Wei, M.D., PLLC to fine tune your rehabilitation and get you back to what you enjoy.

Author
Frank Y. Wei, M.D., Jill Sinda, M.S., P. T.

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