Physical therapy is about more than recovering from a torn ligament or sprain. It’s about restoring movement and strengthening people who are struggling with mobility and independence.
Aside from injured athletes, stroke survivors, and people recovering from surgery, here are 4 excellent physical therapy patients you probably haven’t considered who may benefit from services that restore mobility and decrease pain through partial weight-bearing exercise.
1. People Who Are Obese
Obesity is hard on the joints. Body weight puts pressure on joints and wears them down, according to The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Obese patients are 20 times more likely to need a knee replacement at some point.
Changing from a sedentary lifestyle to an active one can be very difficult—and risky. But it’s critical for dramatic weight loss. Physical therapy gets individuals with very limited mobility up and moving. And working with a physical therapist can teach them how to perform exercises without risking an injury.
For the morbidly obese, certain traditional exercises may be especially hard on the joints because of the stress of weight. A structured, partial weight-bearing exercise regimen may be easier.
Primary care physicians are the best bet for connecting with obese patients who may benefit from physical therapy services.
To find primary care providers in your area, visit the American Medical Association’s DoctorFinder.
But you may also want to try bariatric surgery programs. Exercise is a key component of long-term, injury-free success after weight loss surgery, reports the Obesity Action Coalition.
2. People With Autoimmune Disorders
An autoimmune disorder develops when your white blood cells—those that fight infection and disease—start attacking normal, healthy tissue. This can make moving the limbs and joints painful, or sometimes impossible.
Physical therapy can help some autoimmune disorders, according to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association:
● Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): This occurs when the immune system attacks the joints, causing swelling, stiffness, and pain. RA is normally seen in middle-aged or elderly people, but it can also affect the younger set. Exercise helps by strengthening and improving function, according to research journal Physical Therapy.
● Multiple sclerosis (MS): With MS, the immune system attacks certain parts of the central nervous system. This can lead to muscle weakness, balance problems, and issues with coordination.
● Lupus: One of the more commonly known autoimmune diseases, lupus is characterized by inflammation of various parts of the body. It can be mild, causing only minor inconveniences, or life-threatening. A guided exercise routine can help in improving physical and mental health, according to the Lupus Foundation of America.
Unlike a broken bone or muscle injury, physical therapy patients who have autoimmune disorders may require ongoing therapy. Reaching this population is an opportunity to build long-term relationships with patients.
The best way to find people with autoimmune disorders is to contact rheumatology specialists. To find rheumatologists in your region, visit the American College of Rheumatology.
3. People With Pelvic Floor Disorders
Pelvic floor dysfunction occurs when the muscles that hold up a woman’s uterus and bladder or a man’s bowel and bladder become weak.
Symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction, in both men and women, can be distinctly uncomfortable and embarrassing. These include intense pain, sexual dysfunction, and incontinence, according to the American Physical Therapy Association. For women, this can also mean uterine prolapse.
The discomfort of uterine prolapse or the fear of a bladder accident leads most women with pelvic floor dysfunction to skip weight-bearing exercise altogether, leading to other health issues.
Specially trained physical therapists perform examinations focused largely on muscles in the pelvic area, exercises designed to strengthen muscles, and retraining of uncoordinated muscles.
Research shows that women with pelvic floor dysfunction who completed at least five physical therapy sessions reported an 80% improvement in pain and incontinence, according to a September 2013 study in the medical journal Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery.
Medical specialists called urogynecologists are trained to work with women who have pelvic floor dysfunction. To reach this group, check with the academic medical centers in your service area to see if they have a department for urogynecology and pelvic surgery.
You can also search through the International Urogynecology Association’s directory for a practice near you.
4. People With Bleeding Disorders
People with hemophilia or von Willebrand disease lack a certain protein that leads to normal blood clotting, explains the American Society of Hematology. Joint bleeds are among the most common complications of bleeding disorders, especially hemophilia.
Physical therapy services can strengthen the muscles around the joints. In turn, this helps stabilize joints and fortify them to withstand daily activities, according to a 2013 report from the National Hemophilia Foundation (NHF).
Physical therapists can successfully and safely improve joint function through structured exercise programs for people with bleeding disorders, reports a March 2010 study in the research journal Physical Therapy.
Individuals with mild forms of bleeding disorders can participate in many regular activities, but people with more severe forms may need more guidance on how to exercise safely, reports the NHF.
The best way to reach this group is to connect with nearby Hemophilia Treatment Centers. This network of federally funded hospitals caters specifically to people with bleeding disorders and platelet conditions.
Also, consider reaching out to the local NHF chapter leader in your service area. Chapter leaders are responsible for organizing regular events and educational trainings for families affected by bleeding disorders.
Joint health happens to be a top priority for NHF as of October 2014, thanks to a partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to focus on preventing joint bleeds.
The AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill is an ideal tool to help people with debilitating chronic conditions stay active, control pain, and regain mobility.
To address your patients’ specific needs, connect with us today to discuss innovative physical therapy methods, like the partial-weight-bearing AlterG, which allows physical therapy patients to progress effectively, quickly, comfortably, and most importantly, safely.