You probably know you need physical therapy if you’ve ever been seriously injured. A physical therapist (PT) can help restore your range of motion and normal movement if you’ve had a broken bone or any kind of orthopedic surgery. But why should you go for therapy if you haven’t been injured?
Call it a do-over. Amy DeLap (pictured), a physical therapist who works with orthopedic surgeon Eric Heiden at Salt Lake Physical Therapy, says, “Maybe someone has adjusted their movement to compensate for a long-ago ankle sprain or other injury. A PT would evaluate their posture and their gait and any muscle imbalance that may eventually wear out a joint. Those problems can cause bone spurs, even osteoarthritis … More and more, people are going to a PT to have their quality of movement improved.”
DeLap, whose lithe movements reveal her as a former ballerina, suggests visiting a physical therapist for a “checkup” in the same way you would visit a doctor, just to make sure everything is OK.
Patients, especially recreational athletes, often show up for a consultation because they’re in pain and don’t know why. To their dismay, they often learn their discomfort comes from having ignored recommended physical therapy after a long-ago mishap. “People want to believe that their body will heal itself,” DeLap says. “I hear it a lot: ‘I kept thinking it was going to get better, and it didn’t.’ A PT can do manual therapy that the patient can’t do on themselves, like stretching out injured muscles and connective tissue, and mobilizing joints by moving them through their entire range of motion.”
She adds that a major part of PT is education—teaching someone the right way to move. That may be necessary because of “compensation,” or giving one side more work to do after an injury. If it hurts to walk normally because of a deep bruise or joint sprain, it’s normal to shift more of the workload to the uninjured limb. That’s where many athletes make a big mistake: The injury heals, and they don’t take active measures to restore the previous equal balance of the workload. If one limb or one side of the body is doing more work than the other, it creates an ongoing situation, according to DeLap. The body part given more work naturally gets stronger, so it does even more work. The other side gets weaker, so it does less work and continues to get even weaker. Eventually, even the skeleton can adapt as the alignment of the bones adjusts to the pull of the muscle tendons.
A PT will check your movement patterns and give you exercises that teach you to move in a more balanced way. But, when you go for a PT checkup, it’s important to choose the right one for your needs. “If you’re an athlete, you don’t have the same needs as a middle-age person who is having trouble with their balance,” DeLap says. “If you have a problem with one shoulder joint not having the same range of motion as the other shoulder, you need a PT with orthopedic experience.”
A basic PT checkup will usually cost between $100 and $200. Do a little research to find the perfect therapist for your needs. Ask around. Get recommendations from doctors who specialize in the area where you have a problem. Call one of the many professional teams in Utah and ask to speak to the trainer; he or she may be able to suggest a good physical therapist.
In fact, whether or not your doctor or a friend recommends a PT, it still pays to check around before you go in for a checkup. That evaluation, and the recommended therapy that follows, can have you moving around like you once did all those years ago.