Most people associate the term “physical therapy” with recovery from serious injury or with alleviating the effects of a chronic ailment. Physical therapy (or PT), however, also can be an effective and versatile tool for helping to prevent injury, especially for seniors. For example, as we age, muscles tend to weaken, bones become more brittle, and a host of conditions may negatively affect our balance – all of which makes older adults more vulnerable to falls and serious injuries. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are the number one cause of injury among people 65 and older. A principal objective of PT for seniors, therefore, is to counter those age-related physical tendencies and help keep seniors independent and active.
How does PT aim to accomplish that? With exercises and various forms of therapy that improve strength, range of motion, balance, coordination and flexibility, and often help to relieve chronic pain as well. Different types of therapy may involve the use of heat, ice, electrical stimulation, water (hydrotherapy) or manual manipulation.
Helping to prevent falls and serious injuries is only one potential benefit of physical therapy for seniors. Here are some chronic conditions among seniors that often see improvement from PT:
Arthritis. Different therapeutic techniques are brought into play for the many parts of the body that can be affected by arthritis. The Arthritis Foundation says a physical therapist can, among other things, “Teach you proper posture and body mechanics for common daily activities to relieve pain and improve function.” The goals of the therapy should include improving mobility and restoring the use of affected joints.
Osteoporosis. This is a fairly common condition in which bone density has declined to a point where the person becomes susceptible to fractures, including stress fractures, which can occur even without a fall. The condition is most prevalent among women, but men can be affected, too. Therapists usually treat osteoporosis with weight-bearing exercises or resistance training. The National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) recommends both, but cautions that people who already have had a fracture or have been diagnosed with osteoporosis should stick to low-impact exercises, such as fast walking, stair-step exercises and low-impact aerobics. It’s always best to consult your physician before starting any new regimen.
Parkinson’s disease. Physical therapy helps sufferers increase mobility, strength and balance, says Johns Hopkins Medicine. A special form of PT, known as amplitude training, is designed specifically to slow the physical effects of the disease. You can read more about it
Spinal stenosis. When the spinal cord is compressed because the space within the spinal canal has narrowed, the condition is known as spinal stenosis. The Mayo Clinic notes that people with this condition tend to become less active to avoid pain, which leads to muscle weakness, resulting in greater pain. Physical therapy can help by rebuilding strength and endurance, and helping the flexibility and stability of the spine.
These are just some of the conditions that may be improved with physical therapy. Others include headaches, tendinitis, bursitis, foot pain and some types of post-operative pain, notes Stanford University’s Stanford Health Care division. Start a discussion with your doctor to determine if PT might help improve your condition.