Physical Therapy Can Enhance Quality of Life
Is it possible that you can get rid of some of those annoying aches and pains that seem to come with advancing years, without drugs? Is there a treatment that will work for arthritis and improve your strength and endurance? Is physical therapy just something to "try," or is it the real thing?
Let's look at the record. This fast-growing science has been around since the 1920s, and has flourished since then as patients have found relief from pain in the hands of skilled therapists.
After surgery or an accident, or perhaps when your back or neck area hurts and you don't know why, physical therapy (PT) may be the answer. It is quite possible that your visits to a therapist may improve your ability to move and function, benefiting your general fitness and health. And there is no age limit. Physical therapists can provide treatment from the pediatric sector to the geriatric population.
But how are you to know if PT is for you?
Some patients feel that it is unfortunate that they must get a physician's recommendation before they can visit a licensed physical therapist. Why can't you just call and make an appointment for yourself?
In most states, including North Carolina, an actual visit to a physician is not necessary to be given this referral. (See box). Chances are, if your back or neck pain is caused by osteoporosis or arthritis, your doctor will provide a referral that will enable you to make an appointment at a PT office. The setting may be a private facility, hospital, outpatient clinic, home health agency, sports and fitness center or nursing home.
Sue Stovall, co-owner of Southern Pines Physical Therapy, holds a doctorate from Boston University. She has been treating patients in Moore and surrounding counties for 25 years.
"PT is not a magic wand to a pain-free existence, but it enhances quality of life following surgery or illness that is so important," she says. "The 'hands on' approach gives each patient individual treatment according to his or her needs. In fact, my associates and I call our operation 'Sue's body shop.'"
Judy Middaugh, a recent patient at Southern Pines Physical Therapy, says that following the advice of the therapist is important.
"Through the past one and one-half years, I have consulted with several great physicians, one of whom recommended that surgery (thankfully) was not necessary at this time, and I had several epidurals which did not help very much," she says.
"The best treatment and advice I have received to date was from the therapists, which I continue to use to this day. They gave me daily core exercises and taught me to walk, walk, walk. I have followed their advice and take no pain medication."
Another patient, Jan D'Angelo, says, "Not only did they put up with my 'I can't' complaints, they helped me to ward off other problems. Since my hip surgery, my back acted up, and they gave me back strengthening exercises so I could walk longer and straighter without tiring so fast."
Stovall is particularly interested in areas of the body that are sometimes overlooked when therapy is concentrated on the place where surgery was performed.
"Particularly on mature patients," she says, "I ask questions about peripheral areas such as the back and neck."
Ongoing research in PT has shown that 30 percent of people over age 65 fall annually, climbing to as many as 40 percent of those 80 or older, according to American Physical Therapy Association. Because of this, they rank fear of falling as one of their major concerns.
The study did not indicate which comes first, the fear of falling or the balance deficits, but recommended regular activity that incorporates strengthening and aerobic conditioning or weight training. If fear of balance causes you to restrict your participation in social or recreational activities, the association suggests you contact a therapist for examination and evaluation.
It is important to remember that PT is not only for healing after surgery or an accident, but can design safe and progressive balance training programs tailored to individual needs.
Seven Lakes resident Ron Sickenberger, after his second hip surgery, offers this bit of wisdom:
"I am a big supporter of physical therapy, but only from the standpoint of the therapist's ability to give good advice," he says.
"The really important part is the patient's interest, discipline and motivation toward recovery."
Jane DeLoach, PT, DPT, a home health admissions physical therapist for Rex Healthcare in Raleigh, who recently received Board Certification as a Clinical Specialist in Geriatric Physical Therapy, emphasizes how older patients can recover physical function and independence in activities of daily living, personal care and quality of life.
"In the orthopedic niche," she says, "physical therapists improve the geriatric patient's recovery from joint replacement such as total hip, knee and shoulder replacements with gait training and therapeutic exercise. Hip, vertebral and shoulder fractures as well as spinal surgeries can be helped with early intervention by physical therapists to get the patient on his or her feet, moving properly and exercising during the recovery phase."
If you are suffering from hip, knee, back or shoulder pain, or even a debilitating disease, think of physical therapy as a "tune-up," helping bodily systems to work together like a well-oiled engine, restoring independence just when you need it most.
Betty Jane Dunn is a Pinehurst writer.
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