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3 Health Conditions That Are Commonly Treated By A Physical Therapist

by Bruce Lawson

In the health care profession, a physical therapist (PT) holds a license to treat patients who need to restore mobility and relieve pain due to a medical condition or injury. The physical therapist's job is to help the patient manage their condition, either on a short or long-term basis. Some physical therapists work in private practices, although many are employed at hospitals and clinics, inpatient rehabilitation centers, nursing homes and even some schools. 

Perhaps you are seeking treatment from a PT, or you are wondering more about the profession. Either way, it may help to gain knowledge about what medical conditions are commonly treated by these professionals. The following is a short list of just 3 health conditions that a physical therapist can treat:

1. Shoulder Tendonitis

This condition causes inflammation, pain, and immobility to the shoulder tendons and rotator cuff. It is often caused by repetitive motion and stress to the area. When anti-inflammatory medication is not enough to bring relief from pain and restored mobility, a physician may recommend the patient seek intervention from a physical therapist. The PT will first perform an evaluation and test the patient's range of motion.

A customized treatment plan may then be created. This typically involves exercises to restore range of motion and mobility, which will be demonstrated and overseen by the PT. Exercises may also help strengthen the affected muscles surrounding the rotator cuff. Exercises that include gentle shoulder stretching, wall push ups and pendulum swings are often initiated. In some cases, special equipment may be used, such as an exercise ball, or an upper body ergometer (UBE). Following the exercises, the PT may apply ice to the affected area to reduce swelling and inflammation. Patients are often instructed to continue the exercise plan at home.

Therapy sessions are often performed at the facility on a weekly basis. Most often, these sessions are done two or three times per week, each session lasting about an hour. Depending upon how the patient responds, physical therapy for shoulder tendonitis and rotator cuff injuries may last for a week or several weeks.

2. Arthritis

Arthritis often prevents patients from moving about freely and functioning normally. The job of the PT is is help the patient manage their condition and become less dependent on medications. The physical therapist may teach the individual proper body mechanics, so the patient will use correct posture. This may help relieve arthritis pain. In addition, a PT may teach the patient how to correctly use an assistive device, such as a walker or cane. The PT may also use hot and cold therapy to the arthritic joints. In some cases, exercises may be recommended.

Physical therapy sessions for arthritis patients are typically not performed on a weekly basis. For this ongoing condition, patients may see their PT semi-weekly or once a month. Some patients require less frequent visits to the therapist, such as twice or three times per year.

3. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

When the median nerve is constricted or squeezed at the wrist, an individual may experience a condition known as carpal tunnel syndrome. This causes wrist and arm pain, swelling, and immobility of the joint surrounding the wrist. It is often causes by repetitive motion strain, such as frequent typing and improper ergonomics at work.

Physical therapy is often an option for those affected by this condition. Wrist exercises, heat and cold applications, and soft tissue manipulation may be part of the physical therapy regimen. Some physical therapists also incorporate ultrasound therapy as part of the treatment plan. Therapeutic ultrasound uses a wand or handheld device placed on the affected area, to deliver ultrasonic waves. This treatment is intended to reduce pain, numbness, and tingling of the affected area.

Keep in mind that a PT may help patients manage several other medical conditions as well, such as sports injuries, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, fibromyalgia, and many more. Many physical therapists also assist in post-operative treatment, in conjunction with a physician's care.