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Physical Therapy

How Does Physical Therapy Work?

October 18th, 2021 | 5 min. read

How Does Physical Therapy Work?
Scott Sall

Scott Sall

Licensed Physical Therapist, PT, MSPT // Certified Dry Needling Specialist / Clinical Director of EW Motion Therapy Hoover

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When you think about physical therapy, you may be skeptical about how it actually works. You may think, “I can just do stretches at home, why do I need to see a specialist?” You may be wondering whether there are evidence-based studies showing the effects of physical therapy. You may not understand why your doctor referred you to something you think you could do yourself and may be asking, “Is physical therapy really worth it?” 

If you are skeptical of physical therapy and whether it actually works, you are not alone. The purpose of this article is to allay some of your doubts by showing you some of the science behind why and how physical therapy works. We will explain why physical therapy actually works, the specific factors that make it work, and why it is so important to see an expert. Once you understand the benefits of physical therapy, you will gain confidence in your decision to seek out an expert for your treatment and will understand some of the science behind it. 


Why does physical therapy work?

There are similarities in how the human body operates. Every human on earth is unique in their personality, but as far as the human body is concerned, the vast majority of us are built the same way. We all have muscles that connect to tendons, tendons that connect to bone, and bones that form an integrated network of structures to support us as we move. 


Doctors of physical therapy are educated in the science of movement. Most of the physical therapy doctorate coursework is based on anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, and pathology, and this gives them a specialized understanding of how the human body moves. When a physical therapist can combine the medical history of the patient with their own knowledge and the patient’s life experience, the therapist is able to personalize a plan of care to help them reach their goals. 


EW Motion Therapy is owned and operated by two physical therapists. They use their understanding of how physical therapy works to develop a method of evaluation and treatment that has cemented our reputation in our local market. Even though EW Motion Therapy might not be the place for your treatment, we want to give you general knowledge of how physical therapy works so that you can hopefully build trust with any therapist you choose. 


Physical therapy is all about restoring movement. It works because of the therapist’s expertise and knowledge of how the body functions as an integrated system. Individualized, corrective exercises and modalities are then applied by the therapist to optimize recovery. And when the therapist creates an environment of encouragement and motivation, the patient can have the best possible outcomes. 


Physical therapists have expertise/experience in functional movement

Physical therapists’ practice focuses on evaluating and correcting motion. Through their training, therapists learn to evaluate how a person moves to identify abnormalities, some more obvious than others. For example, a patient may have knee pain. The therapist may watch the patient walk and not only notice what their feet and legs are doing but also perhaps changes in posture, shoulder positioning, and torso movement. Being able to identify these patterns can help the therapist figure out the root of the patient’s problem. 


Finding issues below the surface is where a physical therapist can get to work. A true expert not only looks at where a patient has pain but understands how each system in the body is interconnected and can influence each other. If the wheels on your car are consistently out of alignment, a great mechanic will investigate further to find out why. This kind of global approach should give insight into why a painful area could be the result of a dysfunction elsewhere in the body. 


Physical therapists have knowledge of how the body functions as a unit

Because physical therapists study how anatomy and physiology are related to movement as part of their doctorate program, they have extensive knowledge concerning how one joint or tissue affects another. The reality is that no single system is isolated.

In fact, recent pain research has found this to be true: if you have pain in one muscle or joint, it is highly possible that specific pain is being caused or affected by another part of the same system. For example, if you have pain in your knee, it could be the result of hip, back, or ankle dysfunction. 

Physical therapists have always understood that the body functions as a fully integrated system. This is why therapists evaluate not only the painful site but also the structures surrounding it to determine the true source of your problem. 


A client does not always have to have pain or a movement dysfunction to see a therapist. Many people have goals outside of reducing pain, such as increased mobility, improved performance, or restoring aspects of daily movement that might have been lost. A therapist’s holistic approach can be a great way to achieve these goals.


Therapists prescribe individualized, corrective exercises 

During your session, your therapist will take you through some exercises to correct ineffective movement patterns they found during your evaluation. They may use different strategies to ensure correct form and optimized results from the exercises, such as a verbal cue or a light touch. Each therapist will also develop a plan of home exercises tailored to their patient’s goals to continue treatment outside of the sessions. 


Many people, or even a Google search, can recommend specific exercises, but physical therapists are trained to sequence and teach appropriate exercises for your given condition. The first two options do not provide the personal insight and expertise into your condition that a trained therapist does. Throughout your treatment, your therapist will constantly reassess your exercise plan to ensure it is working well. You as the patient must also hold up your end of the bargain and follow through with your exercise plan - consistency and cooperation are the keys to success. 


Physical therapy works when there is trust combined with a personalized approach

Trust between therapist and patient must exist for the patient to get the most out of their therapy. A great therapist understands that building an environment of positivity, encouragement, and trust is essential for the patient to feel they are making progress. Without the human connection, it is more difficult to see real results. If you would like more guidance on how to find the right physical therapist for you, read our article here


At EW Motion Therapy, we hear stories all the time of patients who had previous sub-par experiences. As part of our core values, we try to redeem these experiences by tailoring our treatment plans individually to each patient. Our therapists focus on building trust first, getting to know you as a person and your goals. Whether you choose EW or not for your therapy, we hope this article has helped you feel more informed as you choose a treatment plan for your condition.


If you’re ready to begin your physical therapy journey, fill out our Request an Appointment form on our website, and someone from our staff will contact you within 48 hours and instruct you on the next steps.

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