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How Physical Therapy Helps Benefit Senior Health

Overcoming chronic pain, improving balance and stability, and prolonging independence – these are just some of the goals that can be reached by seniors through an effective physical therapy program.

A physical therapy program can help restore the loss of physical function or range of motion caused by chronic conditions such as arthritis, illnesses, injuries, or surgical procedures. In physical therapy, these conditions are treated through physical manipulation like massage, cold and heat applications, stretches, and exercise rather than with drugs or surgery.

In addition to evaluating and treating individuals on managing their conditions, physical therapists can also help patients prevent future injuries or health problems. A physical therapist creates individual treatment plans to assist patients with achieving their long-term goals, which typically include regaining their independence.

For seniors, a specific muscle group is often the focus for improved strength and stability. “All the muscles of the lower body are prone to injury with seniors,” said Elderwood Wellness Manager Steven Johnson. “The main purpose of your leg muscle is to keep your body standing. They constantly fight the force of gravity that tries to pull your body to the ground.” To be more specific, strength in the the gluteus (minimus, medius, and maximus) muscle group surrounding the hips is very important. They are closer to a person’s center of gravity.”

The benefits of physical therapy for seniors

The aging process brings about natural changes in our physical condition. As an example, muscle weakness and flexibility can hinder seniors' ability to perform daily tasks and prevent them from enjoying an active lifestyle. Physical therapy helps many seniors manage pain, improve balance, increase muscle strength, and decrease muscle fatigue that are naturally associated with ageing.

“Injuries cause deviations to our posture and our mobility,” said Johnson. “Physical therapy helps people recover and correct the deviations that happen subconsciously in response to an injury.  Left untreated by physical therapy, these deviations in posture and mobility affect other areas of the body which leads to further injury over time. It’s a vicious cycle. It’s more pronounced with residents in senior living because their generation grew up “walking it off”.  The current generation of physical therapists are trying to change that mindset.”

Here are the benefits physical therapy offers seniors:

Pain treatment for chronic conditions

Many seniors over the age of 65 experience daily pain from conditions like arthritis and osteoporosis. Physical therapy may help offset future symptoms by preserving strength and joint use. Additionally, physical therapists can provide therapeutic methods that can ease arthritis pain for those already suffering from it.

Fall prevention

Among seniors, falls account for most accidents leading to fractured bones or head injuries. In addition, once a senior falls, it's likely that he or she will fall again in the future. By teaching seniors how to maintain their balance, physical therapy helps them avoid additional falls.

An older person's muscles may become weaker and less flexible, making them more vulnerable to injury. To teach seniors how to keep their posture strong, physical therapy uses extension exercises.

Avoid surgery and dependence on prescription medications

According to Harvard Health's Howard LeWine, MD, physical therapy produces the same results as surgery, for certain conditions like spinal stenosis.

Get your independence back

A senior's overall health is improved if he or she is mobile and active. The benefits of physical therapy include keeping seniors active, physically fit, and strong, as well as maintaining a healthy weight. Being well conditioned allows seniors to perform tasks necessary to thrive on their own.

How long will it be before seniors see the benefits of physical therapy

Healing the body takes time, and it can take a little longer to heal as we age. “I would say weeks to months (8 – 12 weeks or 2 – 3months)” said Johnson. “It happens slowly and often people don’t recognize the changes.  A good physical therapist will use tests at the beginning and repeat them toward the end of the persons sessions.  This provides the person with tangible data or proof that they have improved.”

Following an injury or surgical procedure, you should begin physical therapy regimens as soon as your physician clears you to do so., To maintain the progress you gain, you should continue practicing after you have completed the therapy. 

“I encourage patients to talk with their doctor or surgeon about prescribing physical therapy,” said Johnson. “Have your physical therapist give you exercises to continue on your own after your sessions of physical therapy are over and continue to do them for the rest of your life! What can be gained can also be lost.  If you don’t use, you lose it.”

For more information about Elderwood’s wellness and rehab program, visit Elderwood.com.


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