There’s a misconception in the world of physical therapy that you may not need it until your body is broken and needs help repairing itself.
After all, it’s common for this type of service to be offered to those who have been through something like a car accident, surgery or some sort of injury or medical condition that may have impacted muscles, bone, or overall mobility.
Physical therapy is certainly useful in these cases and can help improve people’s quality of life. They may not always be able to return fully to the abilities they were at prior to their incident, but with some guidance from a skilled physical therapist, they can show great improvement.
But the traditional thinking that physical therapy is only for people who are already hurt is the misconception: more and more research is showing that a program of physical therapy can actually provide benefits before an injury occurs, and also reduces the risk of injuries happening in the future. It’s pretty much a win-win, especially for seniors, who are already concerned about a loss of abilities such as strength, endurance, posture, balance, and flexibility as they age.
The National Council on Aging suggests that seniors who are serious about healthy aging should consider making an appointment to meet with a physical therapist and even consider a regular course of treatment. If necessary, they can talk to their primary health provider first for a referral.
The physical therapist can help assess each client’s overall health and physical status and come up with a variety of exercises to guide them toward improvements. These exercises may be done at a clinic, during a home visit by the therapist, or as take-home “homework” to work on during the week.
A physical therapist familiar with seniors and senior health topics can also focus on issues of greater concern for this age group, such as the risks of falling, plus suggestions for ways to remain fit even if someone has certain disabilities or health conditions that may limit traditional forms of exercise.
For instance, someone with foot and leg conditions may not easily perform some leg-related exercises such as walking, running, or bicycling. They may have to do more core exercises or stretches, or modified exercises they can perform while seated.
All of this information can be part of the individualized treatment plan a physical therapist can come up with for their client.
Why PT is important
Reducing the risk of injury is vital, especially for seniors. Not only are they at a higher risk of falling than other age groups, but these falls can also often be more serious in terms of types of injuries and slowness to heal.
If a senior falls and breaks their arm, it could make it difficult to get around, especially if they’re used to being independent.
They may require changes in their living arrangements. They may have to relocate temporarily to a rehabilitation clinic, which can be a safe environment for those unable to live by themselves.
Physical therapy for preventative purposes can include:
- Improvement/motivation for additional exercise. Health professionals recommend at least 20 minutes of exercise a day for optimal health. This can include walking, which is a common and low-impact method for many seniors.
It’s not always easy to convince people to exercise, even if they know the value of it to overall health and well-being. But if they are required to do so when meeting with a physical therapist, then this is excellent motivation.
- Learning (or re-learning) certain skills. Someone may never have learned certain movement patterns, correct posture, or certain motions. But physical therapists enjoy being the ones to teach these areas which can reduce pain and improve how someone moves. They also may have once learned the correct way to walk, run, or move, but lost that knowledge due to injury.
- Breaking up scar tissue. Some people’s pain and mobility challenges could stem from older injuries that may have affected how one walks or moves. Along with learning the proper way to move, a physical therapist can provide tools to break up some older tissue which can improve how certain muscles and joints move.
- Improving overall strength. Building up muscles in certain areas can have all sorts of positive benefits.
- Reducing falling risk. One study showed that focusing especially on the issues that cause falling (balance, strength, flexibility), a physical therapist can see actual reduction in the number of falls, as well as generally improved abilities to move or walk with less pain.
There’s never a bad time to learn more about the value of physical therapy, especially for seniors (and their loved ones) who are looking for better health options.
There are plenty of online resources sharing information about places to get started.
October is also a good opportunity to learn more. It’s National Physical Therapy Month, an annual celebration each October that’s organized and promoted by the American Physical Therapy Association, a nationwide organization of professionals.
Physical therapists and physical therapist assistants are encouraged to visit the celebration’s site to access materials that can be shared with clients or even non-clients. A big part of encouraging someone to check if they want to consider physical therapy can start by talking to them about the value of exercise in general.