What is orthopedic Physical Therapy?

If you have an injury or illness that affects your bones, joints, muscles, tendons, or ligaments, you may benefit from the skilled services of a physical therapist trained in orthopedic physical therapy.

These days, medical professionals are ultra-specialized, and physical therapists are no exception to this trend. Some physical therapists specialize in helping patients who have orthopedic conditions—those injuries that cause impairments or dysfunction to various bony and soft tissue structures of the body.

Conditions in Orthopedic Physical Therapy

Orthopedic physical therapy focuses on treating conditions affecting the musculoskeletal system, which is made up of your joints, muscles, bones, ligaments, and tendons. Orthopedic injuries and conditions may include:1

Muscle strains
Ligament sprains
Post-operative conditions
An injury to a bone, joint, tendon, ligament, or muscle may cause pain, limited functional mobility, and loss of strength or range of motion. These impairments may prevent you from enjoying your normal work or recreational activities. The focus of orthopedic physical therapy is to help your injury heal properly and improve your strength, range of motion, and overall functional mobility.

After surgery, you may have specific limitations that your surgeon wants you to adhere to. Your orthopedic physical therapist can help guide you through your post-operative rehab program to get you back to your normal lifestyle quickly and safely.

Any condition that causes pain or limited functional mobility as a result of an injury to bony or soft tissue structures in your body may benefit from the skilled services of orthopedic physical therapy.

Tools of the Trade:

Your orthopedic physical therapist uses specific tools to help you during your rehab. These may include:

Therapeutic modalities like heat, ice, ultrasound, or electrical stimulation
Assistive devices, such as walkers or canes
Orthotics and prosthetics
Exercise tools and equipment
Evaluation and assessment tools
Mobilization or soft tissue massage instruments

While your PT may use various instruments and tools to help you move better and get better, exercise is often your main tool to help you recover fully and prevent future orthopedic problems. Exercises in orthopedic physical therapy often involve:

Strengthening exercises
Stretching and flexibility exercises
Exercises to improve range of motion
Balance exercises
Functional mobility exercises
Endurance exercises
Plyometric and jumping-type exercises
Your orthopedic physical therapist can teach you the right exercises for your specific condition that can help you regain your normal mobility. The exercises you do in an orthopedic physical therapy may also be done at home as part of a home exercise program.

First Steps to Take If You Need an Orthopedic PT

If you have had orthopedic surgery or have suffered a musculoskeletal injury, you should check in with your doctor and ask for a referral to an orthopedic physical therapist. Your doctor can help find the best PT for you.

In the United States, you have the right to seek physical therapy without a referral, a process known as direct access. Each state has a different set of laws governing direct access; check your own state's law to know the rules and regulations surrounding your ability to refer yourself to PT. Your local physical therapist can also help you obtain access to his or her services.

A musculoskeletal injury may cause you to hurt and have difficulty with basic functional mobility. Remember, orthopedic physical therapy may be challenging, but sometimes your body needs to be pushed a bit to get on the road to recovery.

It is normal to feel anxious about going to see a physical therapist after an orthopedic injury. What will happen? Is it going to hurt? These questions are common, and most people start to feel at ease once they meet their physical therapist and start working toward their rehab goals in orthopedic physical therapy.

A Word From Priyojon

Not all physical therapists are the same, and you may require a PT that is specially trained to manage your condition. Finding the right physical therapist can help you have an optimal outcome with your rehab after an orthopedic injury. A physical therapist with the right training geared to your specific condition can help you quickly and safely return to your optimal level of health and functional mobility.


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