Physical therapists are licensed healthcare professionals who provide interventions to address the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of movement dysfunctions and to improve physical health and function. In the USA, physical therapists earn a university degree prior to matriculating into either a professional master or doctoral degree program. This level of education is not the norm worldwide. In some countries, physical therapy education is offered at the bachelor’s level. While educational requirements vary across the globe, internationally the profession of physical therapy is evolving and educational requirements for programs are advancing.
Physical therapists provide interventions, such as therapeutic exercise, joint mobilization, physical modalities (e.g., heat, cold, electrical stimulation and ultrasound), gait training, assistive devices and orthotics, and combine these interventions with behavioral strategies and patient education to promote self-management and to maximize function and independence. Interventions are individualized based upon a comprehensive physical examination and current pharmacologic management. Knowledge about the potential side effects of medications, as well as the latency period to effectiveness of medications, is essential when designing the intervention to ensure patient comfort and safety and to appropriately advance the regimen. Using a collaborative model of practice, physical therapists work with their patients to establish goals to decrease pain, maximize joint mobility, increase muscle strength, maintain and improve flexibility and aerobic capacity, and prevent functional loss. The following sections briefly describe the focus of the physical therapy assessment and the evidence for effectiveness of physical therapy interventions for older adults with arthritis.
What Is the Goal of Physical Therapy?
The goal of physical therapy is to get a person back to the point where he or she can perform normal, everyday activities without difficulty.
Preserving good range of motion is key to maintain the ability to perform daily activities. Therefore, increasing the range of motion of a joint is the primary focus of physical therapy. Building strength in the involved muscles surrounding the joint also is extremely important, since stronger muscles can better stabilize a weakened joint.
Physical therapists provide exercises designed to preserve the strength and use of your joints. They can show you the best way to move from one position to another and can also teach you how to use walking aids such as crutches, a walker or a cane, if necessary.