When Physical Therapy Can Help
What Happens in Physical Therapy
So, could you benefit from a few sessions? If you have a pain that lingers after a week's rest, get a consultation, says FITNESS advisory board member Marty Jaramillo, a founder and CEO of I.C.E. Sports Therapy in New York City. Even though you may not need a doctor's referral to get an appointment, Dr. Wright says it's best to see your MD first for a diagnosis, then follow up with a physical therapist.
If you've never been to physical therapy, picture a facility not unlike your local health club. Most clinics are housed in gyms, hospitals, or private offices and contain equipment such as treadmills, exercise balls, weights, and foam rollers. For your first appointment, ask what you should wear; comfortable, loose clothing and sneakers are usually best, says Susan Chalcraft, president of the Washington State chapter of the American Physical Therapy Association.
Once you've checked in, you'll meet your therapist, who will "test your strength, range of motion, joint stability, and flexibility to determine what underlying issues may have contributed to your injury," Jaramillo explains. After the evaluation, your therapist will come up with a treatment plan to rehab the injured area, strengthen the surrounding muscles, and prevent you from getting hurt in the future.
On subsequent visits you'll perform a series of stretching and strengthening exercises. Your treatment may also call for ice or heat, massage, ultrasound (to reduce inflammation and pain), and/or electrical stimulation (a painless electrical current directed at the injured muscle to improve blood flow, increase strength, and relieve discomfort). You'll be asked to do the exercises a few times a week on your own. "There's only so much we can accomplish during an hour," Chalcraft notes. "That's why we ask you to work out at home too."
Minor injuries -- a strained glute or an ankle twist -- should feel significantly better within five visits (two per week), each of which lasts from 30 to 60 minutes depending on the clinic, Chalcraft says. More involved conditions, including tendinitis and plantar fasciitis, usually require about 12 visits over the course of four to six weeks.
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