October is National Physical Therapy Month, a time when physical therapists look to educate the public on exactly what we do and whom we help.
In short, it is our job and mission to work with people recovering from sprains, strains, aches and pains. We help people recovering from surgery, broken bones and trauma. We treat people who have suffered strokes, brain injuries and spinal cord injuries, those with Parkinson’s Disease and many other conditions. We also seek to help prevent surgeries whenever possible.
As a profession, our goal is to help everyone who needs or wants assistance to move or feel better so that they can remain, regain or become more active and independent. Physical therapy is not just for athletes or old people. It can help people of all ages. In fact, there are eight different specialties one can become board certified in, including orthopedics, geriatrics, pediatrics and neurology. About 1 percent also complete fellowship-level training in a specialty area, just like doctors do.
You may encounter physical therapists working in hospitals, rehab facilities, outpatient clinics and in private homes. We routinely work with people suffering with back or neck pain, knee or shoulder pain or who have difficulty walking or are trying to prevent or recover from a fall. Basically, if it involves the human body, muscles, joints, movement or mobility, physical therapists work with it.
Given all the places you may encounter a physical therapist, the question may be asked, “How can I see one? Or do I need a referral?”
The good news is, in most instances, a referral from a doctor is not necessary in Pennsylvania (except Medicare—federal rules state you must have one). This means, should you sprain an ankle hiking over the weekend or wake up with a kink in your neck or back, have trouble climbing stairs or picking up a bag of groceries, you can call a physical therapist to be evaluated.
Therefore, you won’t need to wait two weeks for that doctor’s appointment or to have imaging done (there are exceptions, I grant you). There is no need to wait and see what happens, to delay and see if your pain gets worse.
Physical therapists can help people with almost any strength, flexibility, balance, movement, mobility or independence issue. We even help those problems where doctors tell you nothing can be done because of your age. Arthritis, for instance, is not an excuse or reason that you should be unable to do what you enjoy. Physical therapists can teach how to overcome those issues you feel are stopping you.
That’s our job as physical therapists. We help you stay active and healthy, to live with less pain and to enjoy life. And that’s the primary message that should be conveyed during National Physical Therapy Month.
Dr. Andrew Zang is board certified in orthopedics and a fellow of the American Academy of Orthopedic Physical Therapists. For more information, call 717-440-6197 or visit www.zangpt.com.