When people think of physical therapy (PT), they often think of elite athletes getting injured on the field, or people recovering from falls and vehicle crashes. In reality, athletic injuries can happen to anyone.
PTs who specialize in sports medicine address strength and mobility issues related to dog-walking mishaps, stair-climbing slips, lawn-mowing muscle pulls and other everyday injuries. PT is an effective non-invasive intervention for anyone who wants to gain or regain strength and mobility—from pediatrics through geriatrics.
The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) recommends entering into a lifelong relationship with physical therapy that is similar to a primary care relationship, focusing as much on prevention as it does on recovery. By helping to improve flexibility, balance and endurance, PT can reduce the risk of injury as well as help shorten recovery time.
Research shows that people who reach age 70 in good health tend to stay healthier longer than those who reach that age in poorer condition. So APTA recommends starting young and developing healthy physical habits so that you are prepared physically and mentally should injury or illness affect your ability to function.
What does PT look like over the years?
Children with developmental disorders and health conditions that affect their movement and motor skills are prime candidates for pediatric PT. But children who are otherwise healthy can also benefit from PT, especially following falls and and activity-related injuries. Pediatric PT may include play, family involvement and other elements that introduce fun to the concept of physical challenges.
The hormonal changes, self-esteem issues and risk-taking behaviors that develop during the teenage and young adult years make PT a challenge for this age group. While they think they are invincible, they are more susceptible to accidents and overuse injuries than their younger peers. Especially for student-athletes, PT for this age group may focus on body mechanics and teaching proper form with a therapist who specializes in sports medicine.
Physical therapy interventions for patients nearing middle age can be significantly different. Overuse injuries can evolve over time from simple tendinitis (inflammation) to tendinosis (degenerative injury), and a sedentary lifestyle can make recovery from injury a longer term challenge. While children are excited to learn new things and younger people are anxious to get back in the game, older patients are less likely to comply with recommended exercise regimens.
APTA considers PT for seniors part of healthy aging, especially as it relates to remaining active late in life. Interventions at this stage may focus on balance and preventing falls, especially for post-menopausal women, and recommended exercise regimens will take pre-existing health conditions and medications into account.
The injuries and conditions we face change with age, and the specific interventions may too, but one factor remains constant through the years: Compliance.
It seems “doctor’s orders” apply to physical therapists too: Develop an ongoing relationship, address issues early and comply with a PT’s recommended exercise regimen and lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of and promote faster recovery from injuries throughout life.
This article was reviewed by Mark D. Piechoski, M.B.A., P.T., A.T.C., C.S.C.S., rehabilitation supervisor at Carilion Clinic Outpatient Therapy.