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Physical Therapy - Topic Overview

What is physical therapy?

Physical therapy is a type of treatment you may need when health problems make it hard to move around and do everyday tasks. It helps you move better and may relieve pain. It also helps improve or restore your physical function and your fitness level.

The goal of physical therapy is to make daily tasks and activities easier. For example, it may help with walking, going up stairs, or getting in and out of bed.

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Physical therapy can help with recovery after some surgeries. Your doctor may suggest physical therapy for injuries or long-term health problems such as arthritis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Physical therapy may be used alone or with other treatments.

What does a physical therapist do?

Your physical therapist will examine you and talk to you about your symptoms and your daily activity. He or she will then work with you on a treatment plan. The goals are to help your joints move better and to restore or increase your flexibility, strength, endurance, coordination, and/or balance.

First, your therapist will try to reduce your pain and swelling. Your physical therapist also may use manual therapy, education, and techniques such as heat, cold, water, ultrasound, and electrical stimulation.

Physical therapy almost always includes exercise. It can include stretching, core exercises, weight lifting, and walking. Your physical therapist may teach you an exercise program so you can do it at home.

Treatment may cause mild soreness or swelling. This is normal, but talk to your physical therapist if it bothers you.

What should you look for in a physical therapist?

You'll want a therapist who has experience with your health problem. Some physical therapists are board-certified in areas such as orthopedics, sports, and neurology and may offer more specialized care. Physical therapists can also specialize in certain types of care, such as:

  • Back and neck pain.
  • Cardiac rehabilitation (rehab).
  • Wound care.
  • Cancer-related problems.
  • Treatment of children or older adults.

Here are some questions to think about before you choose a physical therapist:

  • Can your doctor suggest one?
  • Do you need a referral from your doctor? Some states require this.
  • Will your insurance company pay for your physical therapy?

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: March 07, 2013
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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