Debunking myths of physical therapy

MERRIMACK – Despite a slow recovery after surgery, Dad doesn’t want to go to the hospital for physical therapy.

One mention of an appointment and he ends the conversation. But his home of 45 years is too cluttered and difficult to maneuver around in.

Or perhaps it’s Mom who has noticed an increase in dizziness and unsteady legs, who doesn’t have the strength to get up and down the stairs as easily as she used to.

Talk of bringing a physical therapist into the home tends to fall on deaf ears, and perhaps this comes from myths revolving around physical therapy.

Physical therapist Angela Henry has been practicing at Home Health & Hospice Care for more than 12 years. With October being Physical Therapy Awareness Month, Henry was happy to debunk the top six myths about physical therapy.

  • Physical therapy is only for injuries and accidents.

Physical therapy encompasses numerous types of services, all with a goal of improving the patient’s quality of life. Physical therapy can help improve function, strength and balance, independence, functional testing, fall safety, endurance, memory, flexibility, dizziness, pain, preparing for surgery and recovering from surgery, wound care, lymphedema, wellness and cardiovascular diseases.

"Maintaining function in the home setting, educating family, friends or the caregiver, and promoting wellness is our biggest goal as physical therapists," Henry said. "The majority of HHHC’s patients are 65 and older, but we work with patients ranging in age from pediatrics to mid-40s, all of whom come with a variety of concerns or needs.

"A physical therapy patient does not need to be previously injured or wait for an accident to occur to seek help."

  • Physical Therapy is painful.

The level of discomfort will vary depending on the degree of physical therapy needed. For example, a patient recovering from surgery may experience more pain than a patient who is experiencing a decrease in balance.

"We create a plan of care based around the patient’s pain threshold and comfort levels," Henry said. "We never make their healing process purposefully painful, though.

"If they experience pain – someone recovering from a surgery, for example – we may encourage that patient to use multiple forms of modalities to accompany our services. But we will always alter their plan of care based on their pain threshold."

Testing and evaluations are critical to create a precise and individualized plan of care for each patient.

  • Any health care professional can perform physical therapy.

As defined by the American Physical Therapy Association, "Physical therapists are highly educated, licensed health care professionals who can help patients reduce pain and improve or restore mobility – in many cases without expensive surgery and often reducing the need for long-term use of prescription medications and their side effects."

Physical therapists have the skillset to evaluate, create a plan of care and execute the proper treatment for their patients.

"We attend school for an extensive period of time in which we study the body inside and out," Henry said.

"While any other health care professional may do the same, physical therapists are experts in movement, primarily mobility and daily function. Because our knowledge focuses on movement, we are the only professionals who should be conducting these exercises."

  • Patients can do physical therapy on their own.

Physical therapists ensure the individualized plan of care for that patient is being executed properly.

"Patients need trained eyes to make sure they are performing properly," Henry said. "We don’t want our patients to further injure, reinjure or slow down the recovery process.

"A professional should be present to follow the exercises and ensure their patient’s goals are met. If goals are not reached, we re-evaluate the patient and problem areas and, again, alter the plan of care. It’s about quality, not quantity, when it comes to physical therapy."

  • There isn’t much difference between physical therapy and occupational therapy.

This is a complex myth. Physical therapy and occupational therapy overlap in numerous instances.

"Physical therapy, in comparison to occupational therapy, focuses on quality of life through movement, endurance, strength, balance and energy conservation," Henry said. "Occupational therapy tends to solve problems and improve motor skills that are applied to daily tasks such as cooking or doing laundry. In home care, physical therapy focuses on the function in the home setting to achieve long-term independence."

  • If a geriatric patient suffers from a form of dementia, physical therapy will never be effective.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, "When the body engages in exercise training several times a week or more, each physiologic systems undergoes specific adaptations that increase the body’s efficiency and capacity." Essentially, exercise is good for your brain.

"Science has proven that exercises, such as those used in physical therapy, can slow the mental decline of a patient," Henry said. "And through the incorporation of a healthier lifestyle, motor skills, creating a sense of problem solving, mirroring and step by step instruction, we can work with these types of patients.

"Part of our job, in any patient case, is to educate their families and caregivers. We help them break down daily tasks so they can help their loved one break down daily tasks. We aim to maintain their function as best as we can, and with the added health benefits, physical therapy is extremely effective with geriatric dementia patients."

Physical therapy varies with each patient and every ailment. It can take a life with limited or difficult movement and turn it around. With the help of physical therapy, patients can focus on overcoming pain, gaining and maintaining movement, and preserving independence.

For more information, call 882-2941.