Dr. Jacqueline Gerhart: Physical Therapists Can Help Reduce Or Eliminate Pain
Madison, Wisconsin - UW Health Family Medicine physician Jacqueline Gerhart writes a column that appears Tuesdays on madison.com and in the Wisconsin State Journal. Columns are re-published here with permission.
Dear Readers: Quite often, I get questions regarding pain. The topics range from arthritis to athletic injuries to broken bones.
Usually, patients are curious how they can lessen their pain with the least intervention possible. They also want to do so in a healthy way, and in a way that is fast and effective.
For most pain diagnoses, patients need to be seen in-clinic to determine if they have a strain, a sprain or a broken bone (fracture). At the appointment, we also can determine if they need an imaging exam such as an X-ray.
Regardless of the cause of the pain or its severity, I feel that one of the most essential components to pain recovery is physical therapy and rehabilitation.
October is national physical therapy month. The goal is to raise awareness of the important role physical therapists play in decreasing pain, improving mobility, increasing strength, refining posture and encouraging healthy lifestyles.
Many people feel they need to look up their injury on the internet and then look for exercises to "rehab" it. Sometimes they will just take weeks off of their regular daily activities — and end up needing a longer time to recover.
While your primary care physician can often diagnose the cause of pain, a physical therapist is key in helping to recover from that pain and prevent future injury.
Physical therapists are licensed professionals who hold a master's or doctorate degree in physical therapy. They practice in a wide variety of settings including hospitals, rehabilitation clinics, nursing homes, gyms and clinics. They work with people with disabilities, chronic pain and acute injuries, and also work with those experiencing sudden changes, such as after a stroke or surgery.
Physical therapists will set out a goal-oriented plan. They set specific, measurable, obtainable goals, and determine the best way to achieve these goals. This could include stretching and strengthening exercises, as well as weights or pulley-type machines. They also use heat, cold, electricity, massage, home exercises and modifications of daily activities to improve a person's condition and lessen pain.
One of the most important things a physical therapist can do is give an estimated timeline of expected results. This is important for those who sustain work-related injuries in order to give their employer a plan for their return to work. It also is important for athletes, so they know when they can return to the game — and when they can expect to be at full performance.
As always, if you aren't sure about the source of your pain, see your primary provider first to determine a diagnosis. Some insurance companies require a primary care provider's approval before physical therapy can begin.
But once you know what you have, check out physical therapy. It's good for your general health and for what's hurting you.
This column provides general health information and is not specific advice intended for any particular individual(s). It is not a professional medical opinion or a diagnosis. Always consult your personal health care provider about your concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by Dr. Gerhart to people submitting questions.
Date Published: 10/02/2012