October is National Physical Therapy month, a time when physical therapists not only celebrate their profession, but also educate others about the role physical therapy plays in improving the health and vitality of their patients … and of health care in general.
While a physical therapist’s roles are both broad and diverse, several misconceptions still exist about what physical therapy is, what it isn’t, and the various ways it can help people improve the health and lives of people at all stages in life.
For instance, when a lot of people think about physical therapy, they think rehabilitation. But that’s just part of what PTs do. Physical therapists are trained to improve the lives of people of all ages dealing with several common ailments, and even people with no ailments at all.
According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), physical therapists (PTs) are highly educated and licensed health care professionals who can help patients reduce pain and improve or restore mobility.
Sure, this includes those who’ve suffered musculoskeletal injuries, but it’s so much more than that.
Here are six common misconceptions about physical therapy:
1. I Need to Be Injured to See a PT
Rehabilitation following an injury or surgery is just a portion of what physical therapists may provide.
It’s common for a PT to treat other common ailments like balance and vestibular issues, headaches, pelvic pain, chronic pain, incontinence, and basic joint and muscle discomfort. They also work with clients to prevent injuries and improve athletic performance.
2. It’s Going to Hurt
The “no pain, no gain” philosophy has no place in physical therapy. In fact, PTs are trained to work within one’s pain threshold to ensure her or his musculoskeletal gains are safe and incremental.
3. Surgery or Medication are Better Options
Both have a place as medical treatments, but multiple studies have shown that physical therapy is more effective and safer than options like subscription painkillers, as well as common surgeries for lumbar spinal stenosis, degenerative disk disease, and even meniscus tears.
4. Physical Therapy is Expensive
Physical therapy is a bargain when compared with surgery. But more than that, studies have shown that for the treatment of one of the most common ailments, non-specific back pain, patients can save up to 60 percent on their medical bills if they first visit a physical therapist.
5. Any Health Care Provider Can Offer Physical Therapy
This is simply not true, though the APTA estimates 37 percent of all consumers believe it to be the case.
The fact is only licensed physical therapists have received the post-graduate education and training necessary to provide physical therapy services.
6. I Need a Prescription or Referral to See a PT
According to the APTA, this myth is shared by 70 percent of all health care consumers.
However, all 50 states allow patients to be evaluated by a PT without a physician referral, with only three states (Missouri, Mississippi, and Alabama) limiting this right to certain patient populations.
To learn more about how physical therapy can benefit a particular ailment, condition or wellness goal – or for an injury, pain or movement evaluation – contact us and our physical therapy team.
When we’re young, falls are treated as teaching opportunities. “Get back on your feet, brush yourself off and keep moving toward your goals,” we were told.
But as we age, falls take on a much greater significance. When someone of advanced age falls, they tend to suffer greater distress to their health as well as their pocketbooks.
In other words, a fall can greatly impact a senior’s ability to live an active, healthful and independent life. In fact, where older adults are concerned, a fall can have a spiraling effect on their overall quality of life during years typically set aside for much-deserved rest, relaxation and fun.
Unfortunately, though, falls are an epidemic among seniors in the U.S.
The Fall Epidemic
According to the National Council on Aging, an older adult is treated for a fall in a U.S. emergency room every 11 seconds, making it the most common cause for nonfatal, trauma-related hospital admissions among this group.
In addition, the average health care cost for each of these falls is approximately $35,000 per patient.
Older bodies are simply more susceptible to serious injury when falls occur. And, while there are some things seniors can do to keep their bonds strong and flexible enough to better absorb a fall, the best course of action is to just prevent falls from happening to begin with.
This starts with improving balance.
Like strength and cardiovascular conditioning, balance is something that can and should be improved through regular exercise. With this in mind, try these five exercises to help improve your balance:
Standing March: As the name says, march in place for up to 30 seconds, slowly raising and lowering your knees throughout. Vary the surface on which you march (i.e., hard floor to the back yard) for more of a challenge.
Heel to Toe: Starting with both heels touching the wall, put one foot in front of the other so the heel touches the toes of the opposite foot. Repeat with the other foot, as if you’re walking a chalk line. Go for 20 steps each round.
Weight Shifts: With your feet hip-width apart, shift your weight to one side, lifting your other foot off the floor just a few inches. Hold this pose for up to 30 seconds, then shift and hold on the other leg. Increase reps per your ability.
Single-Leg Balance: Starting with the same stance as above, now left one leg from the floor, banding it back at the knee. Hold for up to 30 seconds, then do the same with the other leg. Increase reps as your balance improves.
Tai Chi/Yoga: If you feel your balance is strong and you’ve mastered the above exercises, trying a group Tai Chi or yoga class. Such classes are ideal for exercising balance by strengthening your body and core.
Safety & Physical Therapy
If you’re new to any of these exercises, help balance yourself initially by leaning on a table, chair back or wall for safety’s sake. Also, make these simple exercises part of your daily routine.
And, if you’re a senior or soon-to-be senior who doesn’t currently exercise regularly, it’s smart to start any new fall-prevention effort by first getting a balance assessment from a physical therapist.
Through a balance assessment, a physical therapist can determine your level of functional balance while pinpointing areas of concern that can be addressed through an individualized fall-prevention regimen.
Many have grown up with the understanding that, whenever you’re about to work out, compete or otherwise push your body, it’s important to stretch immediately before the activity in order to prevent injury and perform your best.
Yet, despite these long-held beliefs – and perhaps surprisingly – there’s little evidence to support this theory.
Today’s evidence suggests that there’s no connection between injury prevention and stretching – static, or reach-and-hold-type stretching – before a workout. Performance-wise, there’s also no consistent connection, with some studies even suggestions that stretching before an activity or competition can actually weaken performance.
For example, research released by Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism in 2011 found that the vertical jump heights of young and middle-aged men actually declined when participants stretched beforehand. In contrast, the same study found heights increased after warming up dynamically, or using dynamic stretching.
Dynamic stretches can best be described as a lower-intensity version of the exercises and movements you plan to perform during your activities or while you’re competing.
A light jog, some leg swings, lunges, high-knees, arm and shoulder rotations … all these movements can be part of a dynamic stretching routine, depending on the activity you’re about to do.
Such dynamic warm-ups help you break a sweat, sure, but it does so much more. It ensures your muscles are well-supplied with oxygen, promoting optimal flexibility and efficiency.
Dynamic stretching, however, can only optimize your current level of flexibility. Static stretching is still vital in maintaining and improving your body’s level of overall flexibility … just not right before an activity.
So, when’s the ideal time to maintain and improve flexibility through static stretching? Consider the following guidelines:
Stretch Daily: Just as you should try to get a certain amount of exercise in each day – both cardio and strength training – it’s also important to dedicate 10 to 15 minutes to daily static stretching. Typical static stretches are held for anywhere between 15 to 60 seconds at a time, with each movement repeated two or more times.
Experts suggest setting time aside for stretching either first-thing in the morning or just before going to bed.
Stretch During Cool-Downs: Cooling down after an activity helps the body transition from a higher intensity to a resting or near-resting state. While slowed-down exercises (similar to those during dynamic warm-ups) may be included as part of a cool-down, this is also a great time for static stretching.
As consistent tightness in the muscles and joints can put one more at risk of pain and injury, those who regularly exercise or compete have an annual physical therapy exam. During a PT exam, weaknesses in flexibility, strength and movement can be identified and properly addressed before they manifest into injuries.
Despite being one of the top causes of disability in the U.S., affecting around eight in 10 people in their lifetimes, back pain is an ailment often misunderstood by those affected.
Such misconceptions can cause those suffering from back pain to seek solutions, potential treatment paths, and even lifestyle alterations that aren’t necessarily in their best interests.
Back pain can be as frustrating as it is debilitating, especially if past preventative measures and treatments haven’t been helpful. And, this can lead a person down paths that don’t result in the best and most necessary evidence-based treatments.
These paths can sometimes lead to treatments that are more expensive or personally invasive – and perhaps even unnecessary – such as MRIs and surgery.
MRIs, shots, surgery, medication, etc., should mostly be considered last resort-type solutions. The fact is, most back pain issues will go away on their own in a few days. And even when they don’t, most remaining cases can be successfully resolved through safer, more affordable and more effective treatment approaches.
To help health care consumers make better decisions when considering solutions to their back-pain issues, we’d like to shed some light on the following common back pain myths:
1. Bed Rest Helps with Relief & Healing
Once a common treatment for back pain, research strongly suggests long-term rest can slow recovery and even make your back pain worse. Instead, treatment involving movement and exercise (i.e., stretches, walking, swimming, etc.) often works better to hasten healing and provide relief.
2. The Problem’s in My Spine
Back pain can be caused by a wide array of issues throughout the body as well as one’s environment. It can be a response to the way you move when you exercise, how you sit at work, the shoes you wear, the mattress on which you sleep, or simply your body compensating for movement limitations and weaknesses. Back pain doesn’t necessarily mean you have a “bad back,” or are predisposed to back pain.
3. I Just Need an ‘Adjustment’
Those accustomed to visiting a chiropractor for back pain issues often claim to find relief from having their spine adjusted, or “cracked.” While this process can release endorphins that offer some temporary relief, only about 10 percent of all back pain cases can actually benefit from spine mobilization. Exercise is often more effective, as is determining and treating the pain’s source. (See item No. 2.)
4. Medication’s the Answer
A popular quick fix, medication should never be viewed as a long-term solution to chronic back pain issues. Over-the-counter pain relievers can help get you through in the short term, but many prescription pain meds can be dangerous, addictive, and even make the pain worse in some instances.
5. I’ll Probably Need Surgery
Of people experiencing low-back pain, only about 4 to 8 percent of their conditions can and should be successfully treated with surgery, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Even 90-plus percent of herniated discs often get better on their own through a combination of rest and physical therapy.
6. I Need a Referral to See a Physical Therapist
Multiple studies have concluded that physical therapy is one of the safest and most effective ways to both treat and prevent back pain. And in nearly every state, patients can access physical therapy services without first getting a physician’s prescription.
It’s vacation season, and for many that means visiting faraway friends, exploring new places and possibly even crossing some things of the ol’ bucket list.
Unfortunately, traveling often also means lots of sitting, interrupted sleep patterns due to time zone changes, unhealthy eating, and workout routines that are sporadic, if not nonexistent.
But, travel doesn’t have to be synonymous with unhealthy habits and a lack of exercise. Vacations are a time to reboot mentally while reconnecting with friends and family, but this doesn’t have to happen at the expense of your health.
With just a little forethought and planning, you can stay active and healthy throughout your trip, whether it lasts a few days or a few weeks.”
So, for the purpose of planning, here are seven tips for staying fit and healthy while traveling:
Plan Around an Activity: Don’t just plan your vacation around a place. Consider making one or a series of activities central to your agenda. For instance, plan to go on some hiking tours, try snorkeling for the first time, or make vacation a family camping trip.
Keep Moving En Route: Whether you’re flying or driving, you’re going to likely do a lot of sitting and waiting during the front and back ends of your trip. So, capitalize on breaks in your trip to go for short walks, do some stretching, or warm the body through some dynamic exercises (i.e., lunges, light jogging, arm/leg swings, etc.)
Explore on Foot/Bike: Once you’re at your new destination, resolve to explore the area on foot, either by jogging a new route each morning or taking regular walking tours of the area. Or, see the sites from the seat of a rented bike.
Strength Train Using Body Weight: Even though you’re likely to be in an unfamiliar place with little to no gym access, don’t let that keep you from strength training. Whether in your hotel room or at a local park, your body weight provides ideal resistance while doing lunges, dips, push-ups, planks, and so on.
Stay Hydrated: When you’re out of your element and distracted by new people and places, hydration habits can go awry. Carry a reusable water bottle with you at all times as a reminder to hydrate continually throughout the day, and consume sugary and/or alcoholic drinks in moderation.
Mind Your Diet: A disrupted or inconsistent schedule, coupled with a desire to try the local cuisine, can cause your good eating habits to go out the window. Continue to try new things, but do so with a plan. If you’re expecting a big dinner out one night, eat a lighter, healthier meal earlier in the day … and vice versa.
Don’t Skimp on Sleep: While you may be tempted to trade sleep for a few more hours of sightseeing and new experiences, it’s not a trade worth making. Getting a good night’s sleep while on vacation will keep you more alert and active while improving the overall experience of your trip.
And as you’re planning your trip, if you have any movement, discomfort or pain concerns that you feel may keep you from having a fun, relaxing time, visit a physical therapist before heading out.
After a full assessment of the issue, a physical therapist can provide you with some treatment options and travel and/or exercise tips that can help you maximize your vacation’s enjoyment.
It’s generally understood by most that warming up before exercise or competition (i.e., that 5K fun run) is essential in performing your best while warding off potential injury.
What may not be universally understood, however, is what truly constitutes a proper warm-up regimen. Oftentimes, either people don’t truly appreciate the necessity of warming up, or they don’t quite know how to do it properly.
Some of this is understandable, though, when one considers ‘the warm-up’ has evolved quite a bit over the last couple of decades due to changes in our understanding of what the body needs to perform optimally and safely.
The days of static stretching prior to workouts, for instance – the bend-and-hold type stretches you may remember from gym class – are in the past. Instead, studies have shown that the better and safer way to “loosen up” before a workout is through what’s called a dynamic warm-up.
A dynamic warm-up stretches the body through active movements that take the muscles and joints through their full range of motion, ideally mimicking movements related to the activity you’re about to do. Exercises like high-knees, arm and hip circles, lunges, squats, and even light jogging or brisk walking would be part of a dynamic warm-up.”
Exercises such as these do more than just help you break a sweat.
A good warm-up ensures your muscles are well-supplied with oxygen, leading to optimal flexibility and efficiency. This helps extend your range of motion, which can ease the stress you put on your joints and tendons.
The benefits of a good 10-to-20-minute warm-up include:
A Lower Injury Risk: Research shows that by increasing the flexibility and efficiency of your muscles, warming up before exercise lowers your risk of muscle injuries. And, when your muscles are performing optimally, the benefits cross into improved form and technique, which leads to reduced impact on your joints.
Improved Performance: According to a 2010 study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, a proper warm-up regimen improved sports performance in 79 percent of those analyzed. Sports reviewed in the study spanned a broad spectrum – from cycling, running and swimming to softball, basketball, golf, and even bowling.
Mental Preparation: Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra once said, “Baseball is 90 percent mental, and the other half is physical.” While his math was a little off, the point that physical activity and competition can be mentally strenuous is spot on. The time it takes to warm up, then, is also time that can be used to shake off nerves, visualize performance and get yourself into a competitive mindset.
The main things to keep in mind when warming up are to keep the process short, keep the warmup light, stick with dynamic stretching, and to try to make your warm-up exercise-specific. In other words, the ideal warm-up for a runner wouldn’t be the same for someone who’s about to golf 18 holes.
Consult with a physical therapist to establish a warm-up regiment specific to your exercises and/or activities, and which takes your personal goals, abilities and history into consideration.