The New Age of Physical Therapy: A Brief History
In the past few years there have been many changes in the field of physical therapy. Some of these are good, some are bad, but all of them deserve attention. These changes include:
1) More emphasis on technology and less emphasis on human interaction.
(i.e., “virtual” or “augmented” therapists).
2) More emphasis on computerized equipment, such as machines and software programs designed to enhance the effectiveness of physical therapy.
3) Increased use of drugs to improve the quality of life for patients with chronic conditions.
(i.e., “novel” treatments).
4) Increasing numbers of patients with multiple disabilities living in nursing homes due to their inability to perform activities of daily living without assistance from others.
(i.e., “socialization” therapies).
5) Increasing numbers of patients with severe disabilities requiring specialized care.
(i.e., “intensive” therapies).
6) Decreasing number of physical therapists working in hospitals and long term care facilities because they cannot compete with the high cost of computers and other equipment.
(i.e., “the market” for computers is much larger than the market for physical therapists).
The New Age of Physical Therapy: A Look at Today and the Future
The future of physical therapy looks very different from the past. This is mainly because of the large role that computers now play in the field. Computers, and other forms of technology, are slowly changing the way that we interact with our patients.
In some cases, this is a good thing; in others, it can be quite detrimental.
Today, most patients interact with computers on a daily basis. Whether they’re using a desktop at work, a laptop for school, or a smart phone to talk with friends, it’s very likely that technology has changed the way that people live their lives in some regard. As a result, patients often come into physical therapy sessions expecting (or, at the very least, open to the possibility of) a technologically-based approach to their treatment.
Some common examples of this include:
1) Using specialized software designed to help patients with specific conditions (i.
e., stroke, traumatic brain injury).
2) Using machine-based approaches to physical therapy (i.
e., electrostimulation, vibration platforms, robotic equipment).
3) Using 3D video games as a way of providing enjoyable, interactive, and engaging physical therapy.
While some of these changes are good (especially if they result in higher quality of patient care), some can be quite problematic. In many instances, physical therapists are (quite literally) being forced to “go with the flow” and accept these changes, even if they don’t really believe that they’re beneficial to patients in the long term. Physical therapists are being pressured to incorporate these technologies into their practices because 1) they’re cost-effective (which is very important in the healthcare world) and 2) physical therapists, just like everyone else, like the idea of incorporating the newest gadgets and latest “toys” into their practice.
The use of computers in physical therapy primarily falls into two categories: computer-based patient education and computer-based treatment tools. Each of these deserves an in-depth look.
The Internet is an invaluable resource, and has endless amounts of information on just about any topic you could ever think of. This includes patient education materials for patients to review prior to their doctor’s appointment or before coming into the clinic. Many physical therapists have created their own websites with educational materials that patients can look at before their appointment.
Some even have short screening tests on their site that allow the patient to quickly determine whether they should come in or not (e.g. “does your shoulder hurt? If so, come in”).
While these materials can be quite useful, there is still some controversy surrounding their use. Some physical therapists feel that providing too much information to patients can actually do more harm than good. This is especially true for patients who have Internet access at home.
If a patient has access to the Internet, they may be more likely to “self-diagnose” and attempt to diagnose their own condition or look up their own treatment (oftentimes from unreliable sources).
The counterargument is that patients are already doing this whether physical therapists give them resources or not, so it’s better that clinicians provide as much good information as possible. After all, your goal as a physical therapist is to educate your patient, not tell them what to do.
A potential middle ground, which many physical therapists use, is to have the patient purchase and review a book on their condition (with the physical therapist’s input and approval, of course).
Another interesting phenomenon that has accompanied the rise of computer technology is the concept of “health care malls.” These are essentially medical complexes that contain several different types of providers under one roof. These complexes started out as a way to provide “one-stop-shopping” for patients, but are now just a way for several different types of providers to pool their resources and attract more patients.
In these malls, you can get everything from acupuncture to cosmetics to physical therapy. While there isn’t really anything necessarily wrong with these complexes, it has been argued that they actually have the potential to be disadvantageous for some patients. For example, if a patient goes to a physical therapy clinic inside of a health care mall for their headaches and it’s discovered that their headaches are being caused by a serious brain tumor, the surgical center located inside the same complex is not going to want to operate on the patient because they don’t have an established relationship with that patient (and, let’s face it, brain surgery is a pretty big deal). This is an overly simplified example, but it does highlight the importance of picking a good physical therapist.
These are just some of the different types of “new age” physical therapy you might experience. Now that we’ve covered the various types of new age physical therapy, it’s time to learn how to find a good one!
Finding a Good Physical Therapist
The new age movement has created a boom in physical therapy. While this has lead to more and more people having access to expert physical therapists, it has also lead to a lot of new physical therapists that don’t have the experience, training, or knowledge to treat patients properly. This section will teach you how to differentiate between the two and find a good therapist.
Ask For a Referral
The first step in finding a good physical therapist is asking your primary care physician for a referral. Physical therapy is something that most primary care physicians will refer to a specialist in, so they should have no problem doing this for you. It’s also important to note that you shouldn’t just accept the first name your doctor gives you.
Do a little research on that person and make sure they are right for you. Also, try to get at least two names and contact information so you can do a little comparison (which we’ll cover next).
Remember, you have every right to ask your doctor questions about these potential referrals. A good doctor will be more than willing to provide you with as much information as you’d like. A red flag should go up if your doctor seems uncooperative or unwilling to give you any information about the physical therapists he’s referring you to.
Research, Research, Research!
Once you have some potential names and contacts, it’s time to do a little research on your potential therapists. You want to look for several things: Degrees, Certifications, Associations, and most importantly, Experience.
Your potential therapists should have at least a bachelors in physical therapy. Some even have masters degrees or are currently working towards a doctorate. These designations show that the individual has gone beyond the basics and have concentrated their studies in the field of physical therapy.
However, just because someone has a doctorate in physical therapy doesn’t mean they’re a good therapist (and vice versa). So, you also want to see if they are certified by certain organizations. There are several different organizations that certify physical therapists, and some are more reputable than others. You can usually find out which organizations a physical therapist is certified by on their website, or you can ask them directly.
You should also see if your potential therapists are a part of any professional associations. These organizations (such as AAMPT) provide their members with access to discounted services, continuing education, and job placement assistance. The good ones will also help you in the instance that you have a complaint about a particular therapist.
Because these organizations have a strong focus on the well-being of their members, you should definitely take this into consideration. Last, but not least, is experience. You want to make sure that whoever you see has treated someone with a condition like yours before and that they have the knowledge and skill to treat you successfully.
Finally, you want to see results! Find reviews on each potential therapist online and pay attention to what their previous patients had to say. You can also ask your doctor or the physical therapy department for any reference they might have.
Your best bet is to choose a physical therapist who has a good balance of all these factors. There’s no use in spending all that time researching if you don’t take advantage of it!
So there you have it: A quick-and-easy guide to choosing the right physical therapist without the hassle!
This post is dedicated to the memory of Mr. L. R.
Riddle, who passed away late last year. He was instrumental in helping me with my research paper on the future of physical therapy back in college. Thanks for all your help! You will be missed.
You’ve likely noticed a new addition to this article: there’s now a comments section! Feel free to ask me any questions you might have, or give your own recommendations on physical therapists in the area. I’ll answer or comment as soon as I can.
Thanks for reading!
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You’ve made it to the final step of your journey to find a physical therapist! Hopefully, you’ve now got several names and numbers to choose from. Now, you just have to schedule an appointment and get started!
If you’re worried about how much this is going to cost, don’t be. Insurance should cover most of it–even if yours doesn’t, most therapists offer reasonably priced plans for people without insurance.
I’ll leave you with one last piece of advice: Remember to listen to your therapist! They’re the ones with the education and the experience when it comes to what your body needs. Give it all you got and I guarantee you’ll get better.
Good luck and most of all, stay positive!
Sources & references used in this article:
Mozart versus new age music: Relaxation states, stress, and ABC relaxation theory by JC Smith, CA Joyce – Journal of Music Therapy, 2004 – academic.oup.com
The effects of physical therapy on cerebral palsy by FB Palmer, BK Shapiro, RC Wachtel… – New England …, 1988 – Mass Medical Soc
Surgery versus physical therapy for a meniscal tear and osteoarthritis by JN Katz, RH Brophy, CE Chaisson… – New England …, 2013 – Mass Medical Soc
Effectiveness of manual physical therapy and exercise in osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomized, controlled trial by GD Deyle, NE Henderson, RL Matekel… – Annals of internal …, 2000 – acpjournals.org