Why is physical therapy important?

October is National Physical Therapy Month — a time to celebrate the profession and all the ways physical therapists (PT), physical therapist assistants (PTA), and PT and PTA students help improve lives across the country.

Physical therapists have extensive training and knowledge of medical conditions and physical activities, so they are experts at creating safe and effective physical activity programs for people with almost any medical condition or physical limitation. Physical therapists also help healthy people learn physical activity to prevent injuries and chronic medical diseases.

What are the benefits of physical therapy?

  • Maximize Your Movement

Physical therapists can identify, diagnose, and treat movement problems. Pain-free movement is crucial to your quality of life, your ability to earn a living, and your independence.

  • Personalized Care That Meets Your Needs

Physical therapists design treatment plans for each person’s individual needs, challenges, and goals. PTs and PTAs help people improve mobility, manage pain and other chronic conditions, recover from injury, and prevent future injury and chronic disease.

  • Care Where You Need It

PTs and PTAs provide care almost anywhere, including hospitals, private practices, outpatient clinics, homes, schools, sports and fitness facilities, work settings, and nursing homes.

  • Active Participation In Your Recovery

PTs and PTAs empower people to be active participants in their care. As needed, they also work collaboratively with other health professionals to ensure patients receive the best care.

The Stages of Your Limb Loss Journey

There are multiple roads the bring people to the limb loss journey. It may be caused by a sudden infection, an accident, or a planned medical procedure for health care purposes. While no individual may face limb loss the same, there is an outline for the typical limb loss timeline. Typically, this is a five-stage process but it is based on the individual needs of that person. No one’s journey will be the same, and your care team will help you every step of the way.

Depending on your overall health, cognitive abilities, and the level of limb loss or limb differences, a prosthetic may or may not be the best option for you. To decide if a prosthetic is the best option for you, consider your overall goals and the lifestyle you wish to maintain in the future. If you choose to have a prosthetic post-operation, your prosthetist will coordinate with the rest of your care team to decide when you are ready to be fitted with a prosthetic. They will also help you decide on the right prosthetic for your lifestyle and customized to fit your residual limb.

You can find more information about the fitting process of your prosthetic and what to expect during this time frame here.

How can a physical therapist help?

For people living with an amputation or other mobility limitations, your physical therapist should provide guidance on proper levels of activity depending on your post-prosthesis or post-orthosis lifestyle. If you are an amputee who is active or has a favorite sport, you may want to consult with a recreational physical therapist who can help you choose appropriate adaptive recreation equipment.

While seeing a physical therapist for a lower limb prosthetic is a must, most physical therapists recommend sessions to upper limb patients, as well. Just like with a lower limb, people with an upper limb prosthetic will need to adjust to wearing and using their device. Learning and mastering your device quickly is the best way to prevent rejection of the device.

A good physical therapist is crucial to the rehabilitation process for adjusting to limb loss. Post-operation, your care team will determine if your physical therapy will be in-patient or out-patient. The difference is based on the individual, but in-patient is generally more intensive and daily. Work with your care team to decide which is the best option for you.

Your Care Team

Your care team is going to be your biggest recourse to determine your progress. This team might be made up of your physical therapist, prosthetist, primary care physician, surgeon, and anyone else who might help you in your recovery process.

You will decide what goals you wish to accomplish post-operation, while your care team will decide how to help you achieve those goals and establish a timeline. Communicating with each member of your care team about any problems or pain you experience is vital to the progression of your recovery and should be discussed at each appointment. After the first year, it is recommended you meet with your prosthetist every 6 months, or if you experience pain or have an issue with your prosthetic.

The overall goal of your care team is to get you back to participating in your everyday activities’ pre-operation. Click here to learn more about your care team and how they can help your rehabilitation goals.

A Few Things to Keep in Mind During Rehabilitation

Protect your limb when moving. Your care team may recommend wearing a brace during your rehab sessions or cover your limb in some way. The limb protector should fit comfortably and prevent contact with other surfaces to avoid damage. Also, be mindful of your limb when standing up or sitting down as to not hit any surfaces around you.

Know your limits. Patience is key in post-operation rehabilitation. Testing your limits and doing more than the recommended amount of movement by your care team can be detrimental to your healing process. Your care team will work with you to create goals and a timeline for you to follow. Doing more than your body is capable of can result in a long recovery or damage to your prosthetic. Similarly, your sound limb will be taking on added stress while you practice using your prosthetic. It is important to give your sound limb ample rest in between uses to prevent overpronation.

Work with your care team. Your physical therapist will work closely with other members of your care team to make sure you are reaching your goals and monitor your recovery progress. This includes your prosthetist to ensure your compression garments are fitted appropriately and working effectively.

Don’t forget to ask questions. If you have any concerns or are unsure about anything related to your rehabilitation process or prosthetic, talk to your care team. By asking questions and receiving the answers, your rehabilitation process will become more specialized to meet your needs and goals.

Information gathered and provided by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). For more information, please visit https://www.apta.org/. Graphics and information provided by First Step: A Guide for Adapting to Limb Loss from the Amputee Coalition.