Physical Therapy - Types of Physical Therapy
Ice and cold packs are used in
physical therapy to relieve pain, swelling, and inflammation from injuries and
other conditions such as arthritis. Ice can be used for 10 to 20 minutes at a
time. In some cases, ice may be used several times a day. Some therapists also
use cooling lotions or sprays. For more information, see:
Heat can help relax and heal your muscles and
soft tissues by increasing blood circulation. This can be especially helpful if
a joint is stiff from osteoarthritis or from being immobilized. Heat can also
relax the muscles before exercise. But heat can also increase swelling in an
injured area if it is used too soon. For more
Hydrotherapy is the use of water to
treat a disease or to maintain health. The term "hydrotherapy" (water therapy)
can mean either exercise in the water or using water for care and healing of
soft tissues. This type of therapy is based on the theory that water has many
properties that give it the ability to heal.
- Water can store and carry
- Water is found in different forms, such as ice, liquid, or
steam. Ice may be used to cool, liquid is used in baths and compresses at
varying pressures or temperatures, and steam is used in steam baths or for
- Water can help blood flow.
- Water also has
a soothing, calming, and relaxing effect on people, whether in a bath, shower,
spray, or compress.
- Exercise in water takes the weight off a
painful joint while also providing resistance.
For more information, see
Ultrasound therapy uses high-pitched sound waves to ease muscle spasms and relax
and warm muscles before exercise, to help relieve pain and inflammation, and to
promote healing. Although the use of ultrasound is common, some studies show a
benefit from this treatment and others do not. Some physical therapists do not
recommend deep-heating techniques. Discuss the benefits and risks with your
physical therapist or doctor before starting this therapy. This type of
treatment is not generally used for children.
Electrical stimulation is
the general term that describes the use of electrical current to create an
effect in the body. There are several uses for electrical stimulation.
- Physical therapists sometimes use electrical
stimulation at low levels to reduce the sensation of pain. It may work either
by "scrambling" pain signals to mask feelings of pain or by causing the body to
produce natural pain-killers called endorphins.
- Physical therapists
can also use electrical stimulation to cause muscles to contract (tense). This
type of therapy can help maintain muscle tone when muscles would otherwise lose
strength or help teach muscles to contract again. Examples of this type of
- Electrical stimulation after a stroke to
keep some tone in the shoulder muscles so they hold the joint together
better and prevent pain.
- Electrical stimulation to keep leg
strength in a person who has severe arthritis of the knee and whose pain
increases with exercise.
- Electrical stimulation to get muscles at
the front of the thigh working in the proper order after knee surgery.
- Electrical stimulation is being studied as a
way to help with healing of wounds and broken bones.