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The Value of Physical Therapy

We’ve participated in quite a few #solvePT tweetchats, and a recurring theme is the need for the physical therapy profession to better market the profession both to consumers and within healthcare as a whole. What’s interesting is that within our experience, everyone we know has seen a physical therapist at one point or another, and seen benefit. Of course, we are active ourselves and so are our friends. We also fall into that category of people who want to remain fit and active as we age.

Once, people did not see a doctor until they could barely get around. “Now patients will say: ‘I can’t exercise. I can’t ride my stationary bike or regular bike or go for walks of one or two or three miles,’ ” said Dr. Mark W. Pagnano, an orthopedist at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. NY Times

However, keeping in mind that everyone is not like us, we thought we’d explore the concept of the value of physical therapy and exercise in a few blog posts. Recently, we met with an MD who on the one hand was a huge proponent of preventative medicine, and on the other hand was a bit dismissive of physical therapy. However, he swore by his personal trainer so he definitely sees the value of exercise.

Search for “the value of physical therapy” and the fifth result is:

It may be stated with little fear of contradiction that there is no field of therapeutics less understood and less frequently employed by internists than physical therapy. There are several reasons that account for this unfortunate state of affairs which has its inception in our medical schools. http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=252288

It’s from 1941, so hopefully sentiments have changed a bit, but the fact that it’s in the top search results is a bit disturbing. A much better resource has been developed by the Canadian Physiotherapy Association, where they outline the types of conditions and interventions where physical therapy can help.

Here’s the list, with links to evidence on how physical therapy can help in each one of these cases.

Tracking exercises in Wellpepper

Tracking exercises in Wellpepper

If you’re like us, accidents and sports injuries are the first areas that come to mind. However, where physical therapy can really shine is in preventative treatments for things like falls and low back pain. Did you know that low back pain causes almost as many work absences as the common cold? Management of chronic disease is also an area where physical therapy can add value. Diseases like arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s can all be managed through regular movement and exercise. Keeping people moving is key to keeping them from getting worse. We’re working with researchers using Wellpepper for Parkinson’s management and we are hoping the findings can be applied more broadly to chronic disease management.

Recovery from disease is another area, stroke, heart disease, and cancer all need physical therapy to help regain quality of life. The first two are obvious. Healthcare professionals are just starting to realize the toll that cancer treatments take, and are prescribing physical therapy as part of a recovery program. Often people are so weakened that they need help to get muscles back to where they were.

In our experience, people who have been helped by exercise prescription understand the value. The challenge seems to be not enough people know about the possibilities. Direct access, which enables people to see a physical therapist without a doctor’s referral, can help this tremendously. However, in order for people and the profession to see the benefits of direct access, there needs to be more awareness of when it could help.

Posted in: Exercise Physiology, Managing Chronic Disease, Rehabilitation Business

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6 Comments

  1. Horizon Healthcare Staffing April 18, 2013

    With new technology and better equipment, the value of physical therapy has dramatically increased. Sports injuries and injuries in general are so prevalent in today’s world, and without physical therapy, the recovery process would be much longer.

  2. Rebecca Tunnacliffe August 22, 2013

    Excellent blog. You’ve brilliantly captured the expression of the value of physiotherapy so well that I’d like to use part of it for some Value of Physiotherapy statements we are creating for our BC audience. Okay with you? We will reference wellpepper.

  3. Anne Weiler August 27, 2013

    Absolutely! Thanks Rebecca!

  4. Lillian Schaeffer September 28, 2016

    This is some great information, and I appreciate your point that physical therapy can help prevent low back pain. I’ve always thought of it as a way to fix problems or injuries, so I hadn’t considered that it could be a preventative measure as well. I’m going to be starting a desk job, and I’m worried that sitting at a computer all day will cause me back problems, so I’ll definitely look into trying physical therapy to prevent that. Thanks for the great post!

  5. Andrea Myers February 28, 2018

    It’s great that you elaborated on having a low back pain causes almost as many work absences as the common cold. I sometimes experience low back pain, and I’m in search of what type of treatment suits me. I will visit a clinic this week to inquire if physiotherapy is the best option.

  6. mike July 9, 2018

    Nice article.You explained it very well. Physical therapists provide the best care to our patients.Physical therapists are health care professionals who help others to heal and improve movement, activity, and health enabling individuals of all ages.
    Thanks for sharing with us.

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