How Physical Therapy Can Help You Take Control of Your Chronic Condition

If you’re suffering from a chronic condition, the side effects you experience can be life altering. You may be confined to home because of the pain or mobility constraints. Or, you rely on medications to numb your discomfort, only to discover your doctor’s prescription is no longer doing the job.

Many patients find that when it comes to managing their symptoms, relief isn’t found in a pill bottle, but in the office of a physical therapist. During National Physical Therapy Month this October, it’s important to discover how with the right therapist, a comprehensive treatment plan, and some hard work on your part, you can live a life with less pain and more freedom.

Five conditions you may not associate with physical therapy

Physical therapists are usually known for treating acute conditions, specifically recovery from a stroke, sports injury or accident. However, many experts are specially trained in caring for long-term health problems that are often dependent on a prescription for relief:

  • Lymphedema – Lymphedema, or fluid accumulation in your tissue, can cause your arms, legs or neck to swell, leading to unbearable tightness or pain. While lymphedema is often a temporary result of surgery, infection or radiation therapy, it can evolve into a chronic condition with flare-ups that follow you for years. Through decongestive therapy, physical therapists can decrease swelling through massage practices that loosen thickened tissue and accelerate the movement of lymph fluid through the body. They’ll also teach you how to perform exercises at home to stop fluid from settling.
  • Incontinence – Even though 13 million Americans are diagnosed with accidental bladder leakage, it can still be embarrassing for those who deal with it on a daily basis. Through physical therapy, you’ll not only learn how to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles to support the bladder, but also retrain the bladder itself to battle its need to release. In some cases, biofeedback can help you consciously control your body’s involuntary functions to suppress the urge to urinate.
  • Diabetes – While insulin treatment is necessary to control diabetes, combining it with a customized exercise program developed by a physical therapist can lower glucose levels, speed up wound healing and ease diabetic nerve pain. Treatment often includes both aerobic exercises and a stretching regimen to improve your strength, endurance, balance, and flexibility. In some cases, your PT may recommend support equipment, such as a walker or orthotics, to help ensure your safety.
  • Chronic headaches – Although physical therapy can help ease some of the pain and stiffness associated with migraine or tension headaches, which are most often caused by hormones or stress, it’s best for those suffering from cervicogenic headaches that arise from a degenerative condition or injury. The therapist will use manual therapy techniques to loosen tight muscles and exercises that strengthen them. They’ll also share tips on improving your posture to decrease unnecessary physical stress.
  • Opioid dependency – Because of the opioid epidemic in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends physical therapy as the first line of defense in the chronic pain battle. However, if you or a loved one has already gone down the road of painkillers and are now unable to break free from them, a rehabilitation program including PT can help you regain your life. Your therapist will teach you movements and exercises to reduce discomfort, cognitive measures that take the focus off your pain, and skills to give you a more active role in treatment.

In addition to these conditions, therapists can also play a role in the treatment of cardiopulmonary conditions (such as COPD and post-myocardial infarction), wound care, vertigo, cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and arthritis.

Is physical therapy right for you?

If you or your loved one is currently receiving home health care for an acute or chronic health condition, your team can help you determine if physical therapy may be beneficial and help you prepare to speak with your physician about the option.

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