When Physical Therapy Can Help
Rehab on the Rise
It all started with a pothole. I was almost at the end of a four-mile run, focused on finishing and getting on with my day, when suddenly I was tripped up by a large crack in the asphalt and landed hard, smack on my right knee. Even though the knee throbbed for days afterward, I pushed through my usual workout routine, figuring it would get better on its own. Only, it didn't. When I finally made my way to an orthopedic surgeon for an exam, it turned out that one of the tendons holding my kneecap in place was seriously swollen. The Rx: physical therapy.
I was skeptical. Wasn't PT reserved for hard-core athletes and the elderly recovering from hip replacement surgery? To my surprise, the rehab center my doctor recommended was full of women just like me -- young, fit, and trying to get back to the activity they loved. "Judging from the increase in physical therapists, it's estimated that the number of people receiving PT services has grown from about 1.2 million per day in 2000 to 1.6 million per day in 2008. This is a jump of almost 40 percent in less than a decade," says Andrea Avruskin, DPT, a spokesperson for the Nevada Physical Therapy Association. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the industry will grow by nearly a third by 2016 -- about three times the national average -- outpacing similar professions, like nursing and emergency medical services.
Part of the reason for the increase is that sports injuries themselves are on the rise: Close to 20 percent of us got one in 2008, up from 14 percent in 2000. At the same time, there's been a shift away from the idea that plain rest is best for recovery. "We used to treat these injuries with the RICE method -- rest, ice, compression, and elevation. There's still some of that, but studies show that the best way to speed up recovery is to get you moving as soon as possible," says FITNESS advisory board member Vonda Wright, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "Say you sprain your ankle. You still have two good arms and one leg to work with. If you sit at home doing nothing until it's healed, your ankle will be stiff and weak, and the rest of your body will also be out of shape." For this reason, doctors now prescribe physical therapy to keep you active and prevent the injured area from atrophying.
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