Here’s why most people might benefit from a physical therapy checkup
If you are reading this, chances are you consider yourself at least moderately health-conscious. And why wouldn’t you? Good health is not simply the absence of illness, it’s a state of well-being and the ability to enjoy life and experience all the wonderful things a healthy body allows us to do. Health is arguably our greatest asset, and without it, not much else is much fun anymore.
As a health-conscious person you probably visit a dentist several times a year for a check-up and for preventive measures such as a cleaning. You know that the absence of a toothache is no guarantee that a cavity isn’t developing in some hidden nook or cranny, and therefore you use the expertise of the dentist to find problems long before they become serious and require more drastic measures, such as extractions and root canals.
This is the attitude we take to many other aspects of health, as well. We go for yearly checkups with a physician, undergo diagnostic tests and even take prescription drugs to prevent illness. But how do we relate to our musculoskeletal system, our muscles, joints, and nerves? Do we take preventive measures to benefit from the powerful existing strategies to care for the body and avoid conditions that are as common as low back pain (1, 2) or arthritis of the hip (3)? Most don’t. We wait until we feel pain, and some even wait until the pain is functionally limiting and hard to bear. Imagine taking this attitude to heart disease or dental health. It would be considered irresponsible, wouldn’t it?
There’s an easier way!
The fact of the matter is, of course, that problems tend to be much easier (and more fun!) to prevent than solve. This is definitely true for the musculoskeletal system, and we might arguably be spared a lot of pain, dysfunction and unnecessary financial strain if we took care of our muscles, joints and nerves the way we care for our teeth, blood vessels and colons. Once we are in pain, it may actually be hard to comply with both treatment and self-care, and the therapist’s hands may be somewhat tied due to the intolerance of movement and positions that the pain causes.
The preventive approach works on a large scale as well. People in countries with universal healthcare, a system that significantly lowers the threshold for seeking care and counseling long before serious illness occurs, have longer life expectancy and a longer health span. (4)
So why don’t we take steps to care for our musculoskeletal health? In a word (or three): habit, convention and lack of information. Regular physical therapy checkups and prevention just haven’t become common practices, (you know, as in something others do and you’d feel odd not doing it, too) so you simply don’t think to do it, or wouldn’t know how. So let me suggest a new approach, a new way of thinking. Let me tell you how.
Once or twice a year, whether you feel pain or not (remember how you have your teeth checked even if you don’t have a toothache?) make an appointment with a Doctor of Physical Therapy. Have the PT perform an evaluation of your musculoskeletal system. (5)
So how can I benefit from a Physical therapy check-up?
The physical therapist will evaluate important aspects of your body and its functioning and suggest simple action steps to decrease the risk of injuries, degeneration and pain before they occur. You might be taught important stretches and how to best perform them, told what muscles are under-functioning and causing strain, pain and imbalance in your body, and what to do about it. You might be taught how to hold your body and how to move it in a more natural and healthful way. If you work by a computer, you might be taught how to minimize the deleterious effects of a sedentary lifestyle. You might be given suggestions for changes or additions to your diet, supplementation regimen, posture, exercise habits, sleep and more. You might be taught an exercise regimen based on your goals and needs, making sure that you don’t waste your time performing the wrong type of exercise, or worse, harm yourself when working out. If you are an athlete, regular check-ups with your PT will help you reach and stay at the top of your performance, helping you avoid acute injuries as well as gradual breakdown from the specific strains of your sport. If you have any pre-existing problems, joints that have been replaced or segments of your body that have been immobilized through injury, underuse or surgery, you can learn important actions to take in order to prevent subsequent problems that otherwise might arise as a result of your medical history. A physical therapy screening will also uncover developing problems with your balance and may help you avoid and prevent falls. (6)
Lastly, if you have experienced gradual changes in your body and how it feels and functions and have been told (or believed) that these were happening simply because of “old age”, your physical therapist may show you that what you are experiencing is no less subject to positive changes than the ailments you may have noticed before you were old enough to blame your age.
Physical therapists are also trained to and always do screen for health problems in general, and your regular PT check-up can therefore help you uncover signs of non-musculoskeletal problems as well. Should this occur, your physical therapist will help guide you to the appropriate medical specialty.
Put simply, physical therapy helps you move, and movement is the absolute best, and often only, way to prevent joint degeneration. (7)
Do physical therapy check-ups simply mean thaat I’ll have more PT?
So does this mean that you simply need to spend more quality time with your physical therapist? Not necessarily, and it might actually mean that you’ll have less PT. A dental check-up and cleaning is faster, cheaper and less painful than a root canal and a crown. Musculoskeletal problems are no different. A regular physical therapy check-up may save you both money and time and, above all, result in a body that feels much better for much longer. Not a bad bargain, when you think about it!
Here’s to loving, respecting and taking good care of our bodies, now and for always!
The lifetime prevalence of non-specific (common) low back pain is estimated at 60% to 70% in industrialized countries
Chronic low back pain prevalence was ( …. )19.6% in those aged between 20 and 59.
Hip OA has been identified as one of the most common causes of debilitating pain in the general population, (,…)overall prevalence ranging from 0.9% to 27% with a mean of 8.0%.
Universal Health Coverage (UHC) is a comprehensive health system approach that facilitates a wide range of health services and significantly improves the life expectancy at birth and healthy life expectancy.
(5) Physical therapists are in an ideal position to promote health and wellness in their patients and clients.5 Physical therapists can reduce risk factors and prevent and treat NCDs by providing patient and client education; prescribing physical activity and exercise; and performing noninvasive, hands-on interventions consistent with a biopsychosocial paradigm. However, patients and clients often fail to recognize the role of the physical therapist in promoting health.
US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) Guide to Clinical Preventive Services recommends preventive physical therapy screening for falls prevention
Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and a healthful weight can help you reduce your risk of developing osteoarthritis, especially in the hips and knees, or suffering sports injuries. Exercise helps bone density, improves muscle strength and joint flexibility, and enhances your balance.