What is physical therapy?

October 1, 2009

What is physical therapy?

I am happy to post the inaugural blog for Geaux to Physical Therapy!  Today marks the first day of National Physical Therapy Month.  The theme this year is, “Move Forward. Physical Therapy Brings Motion to Life.”  So, who are physical therapists and what do they do?  In the most basic sense, a physical therapist helps people restore and maintain mobility.  The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) defines a physical therapist as, “…health care professionals who diagnose and treat people of all ages who have medical problems or other health-related conditions that limit their abilities to move and perform functional activities in their daily lives.” There are many different specialties within physical therapy including orthopaedic, neurologic, pediatric, geriatric, oncology, wound care, acute care, hand rehabilitation, and women’s health.  Within each of these specialties there are subspecialties with one example being vestibular rehabilitation, the treatment of balance, dizziness, and motion sensitivity conditions.

Physical therapists go through rigorous training in and out of the classroom.  I have a Doctor of Physical Therapy, which is a three-year graduate program.  An example of PT coursework can be found here.  Following completion of the National Physical Therapy Exam, a PT becomes licensed in his/ her state(s).  Education doesn’t stop there.  PTs are required by law to have a certain number of continuing education hours (different requirements for each state).  Many attend several courses to achieve additional certifications in a treatment technique or specialty area.  Education doesn’t stop here either.  To stay up-to-date on the latest evidence-based treatment techniques, PTs often subscribe to medical journals and research websites.  I personally subscribe to RSS feeds and several peer-reviewed journals including Physical Therapy, Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy, and Journal of Neurologic Physical Therapy.

So what can you expect from physical therapy?  At the initial visit, the physical therapist will evaluate your condition including analysis of how you walk, your posture, joint range of motion, muscle flexibility, strength, balance, coordination, sensation, swelling, endurance, and skin integrity.  Physical therapists also use several special tests to aide in the diagnosis of specific conditions.  It is important to express how your condition is affecting your life and what activities produce or relieve pain.  In addition, if you have specific activities you would like to get back to doing (e.g. standing long enough to cook, hiking Lapham Peak, walking around the block, or sitting long enough to enjoy a movie), please tell your physical therapist so he/ she can tailor your program around your personal goals.  This helps us set expectations for the duration of your treatment.

During subsequent visits, PTs utilize several different techniques and devices to help achieve the goal of restoring and maintaining mobility.

The most widely used treatments include:

  • Education (description of your condition, posture, sleeping positions, activities to avoid)
  • Therapeutic Exercise (strength-building, flexibility, endurance, balance)
  • Manual Therapy (hands-on techniques, examples including joint mobilization, therapist-aided stretches, movement facilitation, massage, and myofascial release)
  • Gait Training (instructing you how to walk safely to reduce strain, improving speed and quality)
  • Modalities (heat, ice, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, traction)
  • Prescription of assistive devices (cane, walker, brace, orthotics, splint)

Having experienced physical therapy first-hand, I have just a few words of advice about treatment.  First, rehab is a process.  One of my mentor’s mantras is, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”  Many conditions take time to fully rehabilitate.  Sometimes things may get worse before they get better.  As another colleague puts it, “Pain is weakness leaving the body.”  You are likely using new muscles and stretching areas that haven’t been stretched for years.  Your body is going to be working hard in therapy to change for the better.  Consider your condition and what has led up to its development.

Second, remember you are the client and treatment has to be meaningful to you.  If you have a question, or want to know the why and how, speak up!  I love to explain why I am doing something, how it relates to anatomy and physiology, and how it will relate to your everyday activities.  If you understand what a treatment is trying to achieve, you may be more motivated to perform your prescribed exercises.

I hope this has helped you understand physical therapy and answered questions about expectations for your treatment.  This blog is a two-way communication.  Please feel free to send me a comment, especially if you think it may help others in your situation.  I hope this will serve as a good reference for you through your treatment.  Remember, things won’t get better unless you go (“geaux”) to physical therapy.  🙂



Physical Therapy Orthopaedic Specialist at Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System

My name is Monique Serpas, PT, DPT, OCS. I am a physical therapist and board-certified Orthopaedic Clinical Specialist practicing at the Southeast Louisiana Healthcare System in New Orleans, LA. I realize how difficult it can be to overcome an injury or manage a chronic condition and am focused on helping my clients achieve wellness through a physically active lifestyle. I treat orthopaedic, balance, and vestibular disorders and practice using a combination of hands-on manual therapy, therapeutic exercise, and education. This enables my patients to assist in their own recovery and injury prevention. I also have developed fall prevention and golf-related rehab programs in the past. I hold a Doctor of Physical Therapy from Concordia University Wisconsin (2008) and a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology from Louisiana State University (2004). I am a member of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), Louisiana Physical Therapy Association (LPTA), and the Orthopaedic and Neurology sections of the APTA.

If you want to connect beyond the blog, m...@geaux2pt.com or click on the following social network icons:

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