There is a wide variety of physical therapy treatments available to treat areas of the body that suffer from injury and/or disease. The most common physical therapy treatments are found in the following categories: physical exercise, manual therapy, hot and cold treatments, electrical stimulation, ultrasound deep heating and hydrotherapy. Besides being used in general physical therapy, these treatments can be modified for use in the following specialty areas: geriatric, orthopedic, sports, neurology, cardiovascular, pulmonary, and pediatric.
Nearly all physical therapy involves cardiovascular and therapeutic exercise to improve a patient's flexibility, mobility, balance, strength and coordination. A physical therapist will assess your body's condition and design a specific exercise routine that will fit you and your lifestyle. Common physical therapy exercises include stretching, lifting weights, core stability exercises, water aerobics and using an array of exercise machines such as the treadmill. Usually, physical therapists will encourage their patients to increase their daily physical activities by making simple changes such as using the stairs instead of the elevator.
Manual therapy involves physical therapy treatments that are done with the hands instead of with devices or machines in order to decrease pain, increase flexibility, improve circulation and relax muscles. Massage is the process of using the hands to apply pressure to soft tissues of the body to ease pain. Mobilization improves movement in muscles, ligaments and joints by moving, twisting, pulling or pushing bones and joints into positions. Manipulation is similar to mobilization treatments except that the difference involves more forceful and faster movements to position bones and joints.
Hot and Cold Therapies
Hot therapies increase blood flow and bring nutrients to the muscles and other soft tissues in order for them to heal and relax. Physical therapists apply heat packs and gel pads directly to areas of the body that need treatment. Cold therapies in the form of ice packs can help to reduce muscle pain, spasms and inflammation by slowing down circulation in areas of the body that are injured or that suffer a disease such as arthritis. Application of ice is used to reduce swelling the first day or two after an injury and then heat is applied.
Electrical Stimulation and Ultrasound
Electrical stimulation is usually used in the initial stages of treatment so patients can pursue more active treatments sooner. Muscle stimulation machines help muscles to contract and are used to strengthen muscles after an injury. TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) machines send small electrical pulses through the skin via electrodes being placed on the area of the body that needs treatment. Ultrasound therapy equipment sends high-pitched sound waves, which produce gental heat, to muscles to reduce spasms, inflammation and pain.
Physical therapists may use a machine that gives off a laser beam at varying frequencies and wavelengths. Depending on the settings and the amount of time the laser is applied for, it can help to repair injured tissues. It can help to increase healing and decrease pain following muscle spasms, sprains, strains, tendinitis, fractures, osteoarthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, wounds, and many other injuries.
Traction can be used in the treatment of several conditions, including low back pain associated with lumbar disc herniation, degenerative disc disease, posterior facet syndrome, and radiculopathy. Mechanical traction is used to separate the space between the bones in the spine to help reduce swelling and neck or back pain and to promote joint movement and hydration to joint structures.
Therapists use iontophoresis to deliver a mild anti-inflammatory medication through the skin to reduce pain and swelling. The iontophoresis technique uses a small painless and harmless electrical current to move the medication.