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6 Things You Didn’t Know a Physical Therapist Could Help With

You’re familiar with physical therapy because your mom did it after a fall, or a coworker needed it after knee surgery. But physical therapists (PTs for short) can do a lot more than rehab an injury. There are many treatments for all ages that they can help with, including relieving back pain or recovering from childbirth. A PT can also help you steer clear of injuries in the first place, says Kristen Wilson, DPT, owner of Action Potential One on One Physical Therapy in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania.

Many issues are brought on by your movement patterns, Wilson says. For example, having weak core muscles can put more pressure on your back when you run, which can set the stage for low back pain. Physical therapists, Wilson explains, can help you move properly by teaching you exercises to strengthen and stretch your muscles. They also work on your alignment and mobility. But that’s not all they can do!

Injury prevention: Even if you’re ache-free, it may be worth seeing a physical therapist. They can review your flexibility, strength, balance, and movements, and spot any weaknesses that may lead to injury, as well as prescribe an exercise program, Wilson says. The recommendation is to visit a physical therapist once a year, just like you see a doctor or dentist for checkups.

Back pain: If you’re a part of the 25 percent of Americans who complains of back pain at any given moment, a physical therapist can help you discover the cause and come up with a tailored treatment plan. They’ll teach you how to care for your back, including good positions for sleeping, sitting, and lifting, as well as show you strengthening and flexibility exercises. They can also help you manage the pain through ice, heat, spinal manipulation, or electrical stimulation.

Race preparation: Signed up for a half marathon or triathlon? Seeing a PT can help you cross the finish line. Wilson says they can check your form and identify problem areas that may lead to a training injury. That’s important, because a review of research found that 19 to 79 percent of runners are sidelined with a running-related injury at some point.  

Osteoarthritis: A physical therapist can help you correct improper movement patterns, help you strengthen weak muscles surrounding the joints, improve your flexibility, and teach you ways to manage your pain, Wilson says. They can also show you how to use assistive devices and recommend changes to your environment to help manage your symptoms (like ergonomic furniture). One study showed that people with knee arthritis who saw a physical therapist regularly for a month reported about twice as much improvement in their symptoms compared to those who just worked out at home, and were more satisfied with their treatment.

Postpartum pain and weakness: Most commonly, postpartum physical therapist visits help with strengthening your abdominals and your pelvic floor muscles, Wilson says (as well as helping with incontinence). A PT can also show you techniques to prevent new mom-related aches and pains, such as the best way to lift a baby out of the crib and how to position yourself while breastfeeding. When you’re cleared for exercise by your doctor, your PT can also help you develop a postpartum workout plan.

Vertigo: The sensation of spinning even if you’re still, known as vertigo, can have a lot of causes, and you should get evaluated by your doctor to figure out what’s causing yours. If they recommend physical therapy, “treatments can be effective in as little as one session,” Wilson says. You’ll need to find a therapist who specializes in neurological problems, who will come up with a customized treatment plan based on what’s causing your vertigo. It may include certain exercises or head and neck movements to get rid of your vertigo, as well as ways to cope with any lingering symptoms.

Get more great health and wellness stories at Shape.com/Strive.