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Monday, Oct. 19, 2020

Frontline Medical Care

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October is National Physical Therapy Month

One thing we have all learned through the COVID-19 pandemic is that baseline physical health is critical to survival; not only from a viral threat, but other risks to our well-being. If you do not already have a physical therapist (PT) on your healthcare team, wait no longer. PTs are doctorally-prepared healthcare providers who specialize in human movement, exercise, and safe and effective physical function and performance. An important teammate to the PT is the physical therapist assistant (PTA). Educated at the associate’s degree level, PTAs carry out many of the clinical and therapeutic portions of the profession’s contributions to a patient’s progress.

Since landmark legislation passed in Louisiana in 2016, you are able to choose to see a PT first for aches and pains, movement impairments or simply to prescribe a proper exercise regimen for you to stay healthy. Don’t wait for a problem to become a chronic condition or settle for taking pain medication when a PT can help you remedy most movement or pain issues if they are consulted early enough. PTs are also tightly connected to the rest of the medical team. If their assessment of your condition warrants further diagnosis and treatment, they are well versed in getting you to the right health-care provider for additional workup and management when needed.

During COVID-19, PTs have been essential from the front line care in intensive care units where proning (belly positioning) patients has proved successful in COVID recovery to help patients maintain or recover their mobility. We are also learning more about the long-term sequelae of COVID-19 that may include neurologic involvement, balance disturbances, strokes, endurance limitations and other impediments to safe movement. PTs are instrumental in helping these survivors restore their independence, safety and quality of life both inperson or through telehealth.

PT’s roots are in survivorship, having been established through the U.S. Army during World War I to assist our veterans to either return to the battlefield or civilian life after their traumatic injuries. The profession grew during the polio epidemic of the 1940s and ’50s in response to the great need for these survivors’ recovery of movement and physical function. There is no doubt that as the profession celebrates its centennial year in 2021, PTs will continue to be important to our citizens’ recovery of health and mobility during and after this pandemic. Survivorship and the inherent dignity of our patients’ mobility and independence have been a part of the DNA of the PT profession from the beginning.

There are many common conditions for which a PT can provide a healing touch: low back pain/sciatica, neck pain and stiffness/ radiculopathy, shoulder impingement/ rotator cuff/tendonitis/bursitis, tennis, golfer’s or little leaguer’s elbow, early arthritic management, hip, knee and ankle/ foot conditions such as plantar fasciitis; basically, anything that impairs your ability to move, a PT can solve and put you on the path to better physical function and healthy living. For each of these conditions, a PT will first examine you to assess your condition and any causative factors followed by development of a management plan that aligns with one’s lifestyle, health goals and optimal path for resolving the problem.

Additionally, PTs are well versed in assisting people after significant illness, injury or disease, such as traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, strokes, multitrauma and fractures, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease or other chronic conditions that impair one’s ability to move. The PT works with patients to identify their functional goals and develop a plan to recover mobility and minimize the physical impact of chronic injuries or illness.

A few unique conditions that may surprise you that PTs can improve or even solve include vertigo/inner ear/vestibular disorders or urinary and fecal incontinence. PTs may be board certified in 10 different areas of advanced specialty beyond the entry-level of practice, including cardio vascular/pulmonary, clinical electrophysiology, geriatrics, neurology, oncology, orthopaedics, pediatrics, sports, women’s health and wound management. Specialization includes post-professional experience, residency education and success on a board certification examination administered by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties.

Finally, PTs are also very helpful in prevention of catastrophic health problems that either result in or result from movement or postural impairments, including balance/ falls, mental health decline, diabetic and pressure ulcers, ACL injury, arthritis, cardiovascular health and the deleterious effects of immobility or chronic disease management. Engaging a PT can save significant costs and reduce the personal care burden. It is especially effective when a PT is part of a health-care team focused on quality, multi-disciplinary care.

If you already have a PT, congratulations on being ahead of the game! If not, but you are ready to add a PT to your health-care team, you can easily search according to your preferences or specific needs here: https://aptaapps.apta.org//APTAPTDirectory/FindAPTDirectory.aspx

. It has been my honor and privilege to serve our profession as the president of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) for two terms. If you would like to learn more about the profession, please see the APTA website here: https://www.apta.org/Happy PT Month to all of my PT and PTA colleagues!

Sharon L. Dunn, PT, PhD, is a board-certified orthopaedic physical therapist and dean of the School of Allied Health Professions, LSU Health Shreveport

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