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The Importance of Physical Therapy: When and Why You Should Schedule an Evaluation

Physical therapy is a valuable healthcare discipline that plays a crucial role in helping individuals recover from injuries, manage chronic conditions, improve mobility, and enhance overall well-being. However, many people may not be aware of when and why they should consider physical therapy. In this article, we will explore the reasons why someone might need physical therapy and when the best time to schedule an evaluation is for each situation.

Why do I need physical therapy?

Recovery from Surgery or Injury:

  • When: As soon as possible after surgery or immediately following an injury. Consult with your MD to plan the best start date for physical therapy after your surgery.
  • Why: Physical therapy is essential for post-operative recovery and rehabilitation. It helps minimize pain, reduce swelling, regain range of motion, and rebuild strength. Early intervention is often crucial to prevent complications and achieve the best possible outcomes.

Management of Chronic Pain:

  • When: Before chronic pain takes over daily life.
  • Why: Chronic pain conditions, such as osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, or lower back pain, can significantly impact one’s quality of life. Physical therapy offers non-invasive pain management techniques, including exercises, manual therapy, and modalities, to improve function and reduce pain.

Sports Injuries:

  • When: Depending on the injury, scheduling an appointment in the acute phase (1-2 days after injury) is necessary to get on the correct healing timeline. Physical Therapy can help with controlling the pain and inflammation while restoring mobility early on. With severe injuries, consultation with an MD is advised.
  • Why: Athletes often require physical therapy to recover from sports-related injuries like sprains, strains, or fractures. Physical Therapy focuses on restoring strength, flexibility, and power/agility via sport-specific training to maximize performance and return to sports safely. With the knowledge of tissue healing timelines and return to sport protocols, physical therapists are best equipped to prevent reinjury and help athletes surpass their prior level of function. 

Neurological Conditions:

  • When: Shortly after diagnosis or as advised by a neurologist.
  • Why: Individuals with neurological conditions like stroke, multiple sclerosis, or Parkinson’s disease can benefit from physical therapy to improve mobility, balance, and coordination. Early intervention helps optimize functional recovery.

Preventive Care:

  • When: Before an injury or as part of a proactive healthcare routine.
  • Why: Physical therapists can provide guidance on injury prevention, posture correction, and ergonomic adjustments to reduce the risk of future injuries. Preventive care is valuable for athletes and individuals with physically demanding jobs.

Posture and Ergonomics:

  • When: When poor posture or ergonomic issues lead to discomfort or pain.
  • Why: Physical therapists can assess and correct posture-related problems, which can contribute to chronic pain, especially in the neck, shoulders, and lower back. Proper ergonomics can also improve workplace comfort.

Age-Related Mobility Issues:

  • When: When age-related changes affect mobility and function.
  • Why: Aging can lead to decreased mobility, balance issues, and increased fall risk. This can be attributed to decreased function of any one of the three balance systems (somatosensory, vestibular, vision). In some cases, individuals may have a medical condition which affects one system and thus need to compensate via the other two systems to keep their balance. Just like we train our muscles, our balance systems need training too. Physical therapy can help older adults maintain safety/independence and improve their quality of life through exercises, balance training, and gait analysis. 

Understanding the reasons why you should consider physical therapy is a key part of the process when working to improve your strength or manage pain. Now, let’s review when the ideal time is to take action and schedule a physical therapy appointment. 

When do I need physical therapy?

When to Schedule a Physical Therapy Evaluation

Immediately After Surgery or Injury: If you’ve had surgery or experienced an injury that affects your mobility, it’s best to schedule a physical therapy evaluation as soon as possible. Early intervention can prevent complications and optimize recovery. Make sure to communicate with your surgeon prior to attending your first appointment. 

Persistent Pain or Discomfort: If you’re dealing with chronic pain, whether it’s related to a specific condition or not, schedule an evaluation. Physical therapists can develop tailored treatment plans to manage pain effectively.

New Diagnosis of a Chronic Condition: If you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic condition, such as arthritis or a neurological disorder, consider physical therapy to proactively address symptoms and maintain function. Physical Therapists will educate you on the pathogenesis and prognosis for your condition and implement activity modification to relieve the “stressor” behind your pain. By doing so, we seek to help you resume an active lifestyle as quickly/safely as possible.  

Before/After an Athletic Season or Event: Athletes can benefit from pre-season physical therapy assessments to identify and address potential issues, enhance performance, and reduce the risk of injuries during the season. It is beneficial and advised for athletes to attend physical therapy in the postseason as well to help with any nagging aches/pain or injuries. Physical therapists can use a variety of recovery techniques including instrument-assisted soft-tissue mobilization (IASTM), myofascial decompression (cupping), percussive therapy (DMS/Hypervolt), pneumatic compression therapy (Air Relax), thermo/cryotherapy, and electrical stimulation. 

As Part of Preventive Healthcare: Consider regular physical therapy check-ups as part of your preventive healthcare routine, especially if you have a physically demanding job or engage in sports and fitness activities. Physical Therapists are also skilled in wellness intervention and can be consulted for activity/diet modifications to help you lead a healthier lifestyle overall. 

In Conclusion

Physical therapy is a versatile and essential healthcare resource for individuals of all ages and physical conditions. Whether you’re recovering from surgery, managing chronic pain, preventing injuries, or improving mobility, physical therapy can help you achieve your goals. The key to reaping the benefits of physical therapy is timely intervention. So, don’t hesitate to schedule an evaluation when you recognize the need, and consult with a skilled physical therapist to develop a personalized treatment plan that suits your unique needs and goals.

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