Many people think of physical therapy as a treatment only for people recovering from surgery. While it’s often recommended after surgery, physical therapy can be beneficial for a wide range of injuries.

Physical therapy can help manage a wide range of conditions, including stiff joints, headaches, jaw pain, back pain and difficulty balancing. Specialized exercises, physical therapy programs, education and hands-on care can improve the way your body functions. Physical therapy is scientifically proven to help people recover from even complex conditions, and it’s often recommended instead of surgery.

Learn more about how you can benefit from physical therapy, the different types of physical therapy and how to get started with treatment.

What is physical therapy?

Physical therapy is a medical specialty that uses exercise, education and hands-on care techniques to help people improve their mobility and function. A physical therapist will work with you to help you manage pain and move with confidence. The goals of physical therapy are to prevent injuries, help you move without pain and enjoy a higher quality of life.

Physical therapy vs. occupational therapy

Physical therapy and occupational therapy are both types of rehabilitation, but they are distinctly different.

Occupational therapy focuses on helping people with activities of daily living (ADLs) like getting dressed, doing chores and grooming. Occupational therapists teach people how to modify their activities, change their environment or improve their ability to do the things they need to in order to do their jobs and enjoy daily life. Occupational therapy treatments often put an emphasis on fine motor skills.

Physical therapy focuses on gross motor skills (movements like walking, jumping, reaching, etc.). The goal of physical therapy is to help you strengthen your body so you can regain mobility. For example, a physical therapist can help you recover so you can comfortably walk up and down stairs, bend over to put on your shoes and confidently return to activities you enjoy. It can be used to treat major and minor injuries, as well as help with post-surgery recovery.

Conditions physical therapy can treat

Physical therapy is the first course of treatment for a wide range of different conditions. A few of the conditions your doctor might recommend physical therapy for include:

Types of physical therapy treatments

There are some specialized types of treatments within the practice of physical therapy. Depending on your condition, your therapist might use the following treatments:

Blood flow restriction (BFR)

With blood flow restriction, your physical therapist will put a cuff around a part of your body, usually your arm or leg. This restricts blood flow to the affected muscles. While blood flow is restricted, you’re able to get the same strength training benefits from lighter weights that you would typically see from heavier weights. This is a technique that might be recommended to help patients who have weight-bearing restrictions placed on their recovery.

Dry needling

Dry needling is a treatment that strategically places short needles in painful parts of your body. This stimulates the damaged tissue in your body to release tension and promote healing.

Aquatic therapy

Aquatic therapy is physical therapy that takes place in a pool. Exercising in the water reduces pressure on painful joints, helping you to move more comfortably and get the benefits of physical activity.

There are many different benefits of physical therapy, including managing pain, improving how well your body functions, helping you heal from injuries and preventing falls. Physical therapy can be used to help people of all ages who are recovering from a wide range of conditions. Physical therapy can help you:

1. Get your daily recommended physical activity

While it might not be the main reason a doctor may suggest physical therapy, this treatment will help you get the recommended 30 minutes of daily exercise. In fact, most Americans don’t get the recommended amount of physical activity. Lack of exercise can cause pain, reduce mobility and increase your risk of injury.

Physical therapists can help you start a regular exercise routine that’s safe and sustainable. Most physical therapy sessions are about an hour long. During these visits, your physical therapist will guide you through physical therapy programs that may include strength building and cardio exercises. This will get you sweating and increase your heart rate. Plus, you’ll enjoy a boost of endorphins after your workout.

2. Improve your mobility

If you have difficulty walking or moving throughout your day, physical therapy may be able to help. Physical therapists are experts at using specific exercises and specialized equipment to help you restore your body’s function.

Physical therapists are also able to help fit you for mobility aides, like canes, walkers and crutches. They’ll teach you the best ways to use your mobility aide and help you build confidence in your movement.

3. Relieve pain

Physical therapy is a highly effective treatment for managing and relieving acute or chronic pain. Acute pain is short-term pain that lasts no longer than 12 weeks. Long-term pain that lasts for more than 12 weeks is chronic pain.

Weak or stiff muscles and tendons can contribute to pain and discomfort. A personalized exercise program can target parts of your body that cause you pain to treat it at the source.

By strengthening your muscles, you can improve the way your body functions. This relieves pressure, alleviating pain or discomfort. Physical therapists will also show you how to modify your movements to prevent putting unnecessary stress on injured parts of your body.

4. Back pain relief

Back pain is one of the most common conditions affecting adults worldwide. One of the main causes of back pain is muscle deconditioning — when the muscles weaken due to lack of exercise or aging. Physical therapy is one of the most effective treatments of back pain.

A physical therapist will create a personalized exercise plan that addresses your unique symptoms to help you strengthen and loosen the muscles supporting your spine.

5. Avoid surgery

Physical therapy is often the best course of treatment for several injuries and chronic conditions. It’s so effective at managing uncomfortable symptoms and helping people recover that it’s often recommended instead of surgery — especially for conditions such as osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease and tears in the meniscus.

The movements prescribed by physical therapists promote healing, which can help patients fully recover from conditions that may have otherwise needed surgery.

6. Improve your surgical outcome

Sticking to a physical therapy program after surgery is proven to improve the outcome of the procedure. Physical therapy exercises, stretches and hands-on treatments can help reduce inflammation, improve your range of motion and manage painful side effects of surgery. These all help you feel healthier and happier faster.

7. Heal after surgery

When surgery is needed, physical therapy is often recommended to aid in your recovery. Procedures like joint replacement surgery, hand surgery and spine surgery can make it more difficult for you to move. Physical therapy can help speed up your recovery by promoting healing and helping you feel more comfortable while moving.

8. Prevent falls

Injuries, illnesses or simply growing older can increase your risk of falls. These factors may make it difficult for you to move or weaken your muscles.

Physical therapists have special training in working with people who are at risk of falling. Specialized physical therapy programs, including fall prevention and balance physical therapy programs, can improve your balance, endurance and coordination.

9. Recover after a sports injury

A painful injury can take you out of the game or affect your ability to perform at peak performance. A physical therapist who specializes in sports medicine knows how to help you heal so you can return to your favorite activities safely. They’ll work with you to heal your injury and teach you how to modify your movements to prevent future injuries and regain confidence.

10. Prevent future injuries

Faulty movement patterns can lead to injuries like sprains, tears and fractures. A physical therapist can assess how you’re moving and use physical therapy treatments to correct your movements. This can be especially helpful for athletes and people who do repetitive motions that put extra stress on the muscles.

Starting physical therapy treatment

If you’re dealing with an injury or pain, physical therapy might be able to help. Most of the time, you don’t need a referral to schedule directly with a physical therapist.

You can visit a physical therapist for an initial assessment. They’ll perform a physical exam and determine the cause of your pain. In the rare case that they’re not the best person to help you, a physical therapist will help connect you with a specialist.

Physical therapy clinics in Minnesota

At TRIA, we’ve helped thousands of people recover from even the most complex conditions through physical therapy and specialized physical therapy programs. We have many orthopedics and physical therapy clinics in the Twin Cities. If you’re ready to take your first step toward recovery, make an appointment with one of our physical therapists.