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Kathleen Doheny Thursday, January 12, 2023
Physical therapy is often thought about only as a way to recover after surgery or an injury. In reality, physical therapy can help with many more health conditions and situations.
Here are just a few, non-rehab reasons to use PT:
- Predicting future movement problems: Assessing a person’s strength can help predict (and ward off) movement problems later, says Kele Murdin, a physical therapist in Seattle who specializes in helping adults 65 plus. For instance, measuring the strength in a person’s quadriceps can help predict whether getting out of a chair will soon be difficult if the muscles aren’t strengthened.
- Preventing falls: A home-based strength and balance retraining exercise program, delivered by a physical therapist, prevented repeat falls in adults age 70 and above better than typical fall prevention care provided by a geriatric specialist. After a year, those in the usual care group documented more falls than those in the physical therapist-instructed group.
- Weaning from assistive devices: Murdin often sees adults who have been given a walker due to movement difficulty. “No one told them this is [supposed to be] temporary,” she says. She assesses them and, if at all possible, weans them off by giving them a strengthening program. “No one goes into a nursing home because they can’t touch their toes,” says Sherri Betz, a physical therapist in Monroe, LA, and a spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association. It’s because they can’t get out of a chair or have trouble walking.
- Assessing, improving bone health, posture: “A physical therapist can do a consultation for bone health,” Betz says. Strengthening exercises can help avoid bone loss, even osteoporosis, she says. Physical therapy exercises and posture training can also help with kyphosis, that abnormal and painful spine curvature that can give you that unattractive rounded back.
- PT for incontinence? Physical therapists can address pelvic floor issues, which may explain incontinence, and recommend a regimen that may improve pelvic floor muscle function, stop the leak and perhaps avoid the need for medicines and surgery.
Finding a PT
Betz and Murdin urge older adults to think about using PT to assess status and prevent issues. Murdin says she does a yearly assessment on her mom, to assess balance, stamina and her walking speed, among other measures. She urges other adults to ask for this, too.
Often, a primary care doctor or surgeon will refer patients to a PT. You can also ask for a referral or you can go straight to a PT on your own. According to APTA, all states allow that, although a referral might still be needed by your insurance plan, state practice laws or corporate policies.
As for coverage? Most insurance policies cover PT from a licensed physical therapist or PT assistant supervised by a licensed PT, according to APTA. Ask your plan provider about details. And when your doctor or other healthcare provider verifies that PT is needed, Medicare also helps pay. How much coverage you get depends on your particular plan and other details.