Newsletter - Physical Therapy

What is Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy is a health care specialty involved with evaluating, diagnosing, and treating disorders of the musculoskeletal system. The ultimate goal of physical therapy is to restore maximal functional independence to each individual patient. To achieve this goal, physical treatment such as manual therapy, joint mobilization, education, body mechanics instruction, exercise, electrotherapeutics and special massage are utilized.

Physical therapy is provided by physical therapists, who are licensed health care professionals with a master's or doctorate degree in physical therapy. Physical therapists evaluate, diagnose, and manage the physical therapy treatment plan, customizing it to each individual's needs. Physical therapy assistants work under the direction of physical therapists to provide treatment to patients and work towards achieving a patient's goals.

Exercise Therapy

Exercising daily plays a crucial role in the process of healing and recovering from injury or disease. This is the goal of physical therapy exercises. Stretching and strengthening activities are only a few types of physical therapy exercises. Balance, joint control, stabilization and muscle re-training are other types of important physical therapy exercises.


Physical therapists wrap moist hot packs in several layers of towels. They are then applied directly on the exposed area that needs treatment. The heat provided by the hot packs has several important benefits. It warms tight muscles, causing tissues to relax. This decreases pain caused by muscle tension or spasms. It also causes vasodilatation of the blood vessels which increases circulation to the area. Patients with muscle strains, spasms, or arthritis often benefit from treatment with moist hot packs.


Cold packs are a frozen gel substance used by physical therapists to treat areas of pain and inflammation. The cold packs are wrapped in a wet towel and applied directly to the area in need of treatment. The cold transferred to the patient's skin, muscle, and tissue has several beneficial effects. The cold temperature causes vasoconstriction of the blood vessels in the area. After about 10 minutes of application the blood vessels dilate, known as the Hunting Response. This decreases the inflammation in the area. Management with cold or ice is the first line of treatment in acute injury.


Electrical stimulation uses an electrical current to make a change in the body. In physical therapy, electricity may be used to reduce muscle spasms, reduce pain, stimulate  the strength of a muscle contraction, deliver medication through the skin, or reduce swelling. For example, to improve muscle strength electrodes are placed on the skin in various locations known by the physical therapist that will recruit the appropriate muscle fibers. Assisted contraction of the muscles via electrical stimulation help strengthen a weak muscle. The physical therapist can change the current setting to allow for a forceful or gentle muscle contraction. Along with increasing muscle strength, the contraction of the muscle also promotes blood supply to the area that assists in healing.

Soft and Deep Tissue Mobilization

This is a scientific method of manipulating the soft tissues of the body to have a specific effect. Its objective is the restoration of function, release of tension and the reestablishment of the contours where this is desirable.

When is Physical Therapy Necessary?

Physical therapy is needed for indivdiuals who have experienced a reduction in their ability to interact with their environment (function) whether it be due to an illness, disease, injury, accident or surgery. If a person has a sudden or gradually difficulty with performing activities of daily living, work, or sports then physical therapy may be required. If pain limits a person's ability to function, then physical therapy may be required.

Physical therapy may be ordered by a physician when a course of treatment would be beneficial. In many states, like New Hamsphire, Direct Access is available. This means no referral is needed to see a physical therapist. Therapists today are trained to determine a person's need for treatment or referral to another specialist. Treatment is offered to a wide variety of patients including newborn babies, children, adults, and geriatrics.

Physical therapy's goal is to restore a person's function and is useful in treating many different medical disorders, injuries, neurological and muscular illnesses. Cardiopulmonary diseases are only a few pathologic conditions which physical therapy plays a treatment role in.

Through patient and therapist interaction, physical therapy can help restore movement and function thus helping patients return to their prior level of independence.

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