Physical therapy is the most recommended treatment method even by doctors when they feel that the patient needs an improvement in his mobility and strength. Whether it is an injury or a condition that causes severe pain or limits movement, physical therapists formulate the best treatment plan to treat the patients with their effective physical therapy methods.
Physical therapy or physiotherapy is performed by trained and licensed physical therapists who have experience diagnosing and treating abnormalities, restoring normal function, and promoting physical activity in the patients through proper education.
When you first visit a physical therapy clinic to treat your condition, such as chronic neck pain or a sports injury, the physical therapist will initially carry out a physical exam. It includes evaluating your medical history, mobility, and posture, physical activity, and performance. Then the therapist will diagnose your condition and provide you with a customised treatment plan.
The treatment plan includes several physical therapy methods that reduce pain and inflammation and stimulate healing in the patient’s body. In this article, we have compiled the most preferred and effective physical therapy methods that improve efficiency.
1) Therapeutic Exercise
Therapeutic exercises involve physical activities that mainly focus on restoring function and mobility, maintaining strength and flexibility, and reducing pain. Exercise is the go-to treatment preferred by physical therapists to treat any pain and injuries. Physical therapists may recommend a wide range of physical activities that help in targeting the weak muscles and addressing muscular imbalances, thereby decreasing pain.
Therapeutic exercises are of two types – active and passive. Active exercises are those physical activities performed by the patient under his/her strength and energy. They require the voluntary action of muscles working in opposition to an external force. Strengthening exercises, walking on a treadmill are all active exercises.
Passive exercises are done with assistance from physical therapists who help the patients move their muscles and joints through a full range of motion. Hamstring stretch, piriformis stretch are some of the passive exercises.
2) Manual Therapy
Manual therapy is a specific hands-on physical therapy method performed by physical therapists to promote pain relief, treat disability and induce relaxation in patients. Manual therapy combined with other treatments like electrotherapy and therapeutic exercises helps to speed up the recovery process.
The different techniques involved in manual therapy are
- Soft Tissue Mobilisation – This is a massage therapy process that includes mobilising the muscles, thereby breaking up the scar tissues. This process removes the waste substances present in the damaged tissue and speeds up the healing process. This method helps to reduce muscle tension, increases flexibility and range of motion.
- Trigger Point Therapy – This method is also known as myofascial trigger point therapy that reduces inflammation and corrects muscle imbalances. In this method, the physical therapist applies pressure to the areas where muscle tightness exists. As a result of the pressure, the pain decreases, and the muscles return to their normal state.
- Acupressure – The physical therapist applies gentle pressure with his fingers to the same pressure points and meridians as acupuncture. These acupressure points present all over the body are stimulated with different strains, frequencies, and timings to increase blood circulation and reduce muscle tension.
3) Heat/Cold Therapy
If the patient suffers from chronic pain and discomfort, the physical therapist would prefer to use heat and cold therapy alternatively before proceeding to therapeutic exercises.
Heat therapy is the process of increasing the temperature of soft tissue. Heating pads or heated gel packs are used to perform heat therapy to stimulate blood flow to the targeted areas lacking oxygen or nutrients.
Enhanced blood flow removes waste materials and increases metabolic rate. Heat therapy helps relax muscle tension, reduces pain and muscle spasms, increases range of motion, and speeds up the recovery process.
Cold therapy, also known as cryotherapy, is carried out by wrapping ice cubes in a towel and applying them to the affected areas. Cold therapy is the process of decreasing the temperature of skin or soft tissues.
This process narrows the blood vessels, as a result of which the blood circulation slows down. It helps to reduce pain, inflammation and decrease muscle spasms.
4) Electrical Stimulation
Electrical stimulation also referred to as electrotherapy, is one of the safest and most effective physical therapy methods. It assists in treating back pain, fibromyalgia, arthritis, tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, and several other conditions.
This method uses electrical impulses in the affected areas, primarily nerves and muscles, to promote muscle contraction and reduce pain.
The most common physical therapy method of electrical stimulation is transcutaneous electrical neuromuscular stimulation (TENS). This method helps to stimulate the sensory nerves, as a result of which the natural pain relief mechanism gets activated.
The TENS unit sends low voltage electrical impulses through the electrodes attached to the patient’s body where they experience pain. These impulses stimulate the nerves to block pain signals to the brain. It also enhances the number of endorphins which are the natural painkillers of the human body.
Therapeutic ultrasound is a deep heating treatment that uses sound waves to treat connective tissue injuries like sprains, strains, or tendonitis. The physical therapist uses a wand to press directly and safely against the skin to apply sound waves.
These sound waves can create vibration in the tissues of muscles, tendons, joints, and ligaments. This process increases heat and friction in the affected area and starts the healing process. Ultrasound therapy improves mobility in people suffering from back pain and frozen shoulders.
6) Laser Therapy
Low-level laser therapy or light therapy is a non-invasive, painless treatment that uses light at a specific wavelength to promote the process of healing. It effectively treats chronic pain, inflammation, reducing muscle fatigue and speeding up the wound healing process.
7) Massage Therapy
Physical therapists carry out massage therapy to address the soft tissues of the body that include muscle, tendons, ligaments, connective tissue, and skin. It is performed by applying increased or decreased pressure and moving hands and fingers over the affected area according to the severity of the pain and its location.
The physical therapist would apply oil or lotion to their hands to avoid friction on the patient’s skin. Some therapists also prefer to use their elbow, forearms, or feet to manipulate the soft tissues and muscles.
Each physical therapy clinic provides different physical therapy methods according to the conditions experienced by the patients. Even though so many treatment methods persist in physical therapy, the overall goal of each physical therapist is to provide a long-lasting recovery to their patients.