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When Physical Therapy Can Help

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Do you need physical therapy? Boot camp. Spinning class. Half-marathon training. Sometimes the road to getting fit can leave you wincing on the sidelines. Here's why a few sessions with a physical therapist might be your fastest route to recovery.

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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roxyjones7 wrote:

Great article. I read a blog post about the history of physical therapy and it is really what sparked me to get going!

8/18/2014 02:12:14 PM Report Abuse
jleavitt84 wrote:

I have a friend that his been going to rehab for the last few months. He was really nervous about it too because he didn't know what to expect. After a few sessions he really started to enjoy it and he started liking his trainer. He is now almost done and he is so glad that he did it.

2/21/2014 04:16:56 PM Report Abuse
ealexander321 wrote:

My doctor diagnosed me with back strain, sent me to PT(physical therapy). PT said doctors always put that down and rely on them to figure out what is really the problem. 1st they said- strain of the sack the encases the spinal cord, then that it was trigger points (tight muscles). He used his thumb and pressed hard on my lower back where it hurt. Unfortunately it appears I actually had a bulging disc and they popped it and caused paralysis. I had to have surgery. Too bad couldn't get MRI 1st.

5/13/2010 03:00:11 PM Report Abuse
mcanna wrote:

Great article! As an under 30 year old woman, who also had hip surgery, PT has been a godsend. Even prior to surgery, going to PT helped out with pain. The PT's that I have seen have been are, for the most part, active individuals who understand that you want to get back to activity and feel better, in a different way than a doctor does.

5/11/2010 10:46:58 AM Report Abuse
deadicateddee wrote:

FYI, not only the elderly have hip replacements, one year ago at 38 I had a total hip replacement. I'm guessing that was just a 'play on words'...

2/25/2010 08:34:11 PM Report Abuse

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