Physical therapy is often thought of as something we do after an injury or major surgery. However, physical therapists play an important role in geriatric medicine, ultimately helping older adults stay independent for longer. While physical therapists do treat injuries, they also educate people about preventive strategies that reduce injuries common with old age.
As we age, our muscles and joints lose strength and stability over time. Physical therapy for seniors focuses on improving the five pillars of fitness: flexibility, strength, endurance, posture and balance. Physical therapists use a holistic approach to fitness that helps older adults improve strength and flexibility to reduce the risk of injury and maintain independence well into their later years.
The aging process can make completing daily tasks difficult for older adults. However, implementing physical therapy for seniors into a fitness routine makes these tasks easier and allows for a more active lifestyle. While stiff joints, decreased mobility, and poor balance are common elements of the aging process, physical therapy can work to counteract these issues. Physical therapy provides several health benefits for seniors, some of which include the following:
Chronic pain relief
According to the National Institute on Aging, nearly 85% of older adults have at least one chronic health condition; 60% have at least two or more. Some chronic conditions such as arthritis and osteoporosis can be extremely painful and even interfere with daily life. Physical therapy for chronic pain can help preserve strength and delay the onset of symptoms. Physical therapists can also teach older adults living with arthritis techniques and therapeutic methods that help relieve arthritic pain.
Reduce fall risks
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are the leading cause of injuries and death among older Americans, with a fall occurring every second of every day. Once a fall occurs, the likelihood of another fall occurring dramatically increases. Older adults who participate in physical therapy fall prevention exercises can learn how to maintain their stability to avoid future falls. Physical therapists even teach older adults how to fall safely if they do lose their balance.
Reduce dependence on prescription drugs
As older adults work to manage multiple health conditions, their dependence on prescription drugs is likely to increase. Physical therapy allows older adults to manage pain through natural remedies such as building muscle and flexibility. Physical therapy can be as effective as prescription medication when used to treat certain conditions such as lower back pain.
Decrease risk of injury
As people age, it’s common to lose muscle tone and bone density, which increases the risk of injury, especially when lifting or bending. Physical therapy for seniors works to improve posture, balance, and strength to improve mobility and range of motion.
While all older adults could benefit from physical therapy, many healthcare providers make referrals to help seniors cope with many different conditions. Arthritis, for example, is one of the most common conditions in older adults. Arthritis occurs when cartilage, which acts as a cushion in between joints, breaks down and wears away. In addition to medication, older adults can also find relief in physical therapy. Physical therapists will often use hot packs, aquatic exercise, electric stimulation and ice therapies to help relieve arthritic pain.
According to the Mayo Clinic, osteoporosis causes bones to become weak and brittle to the point that mild stresses like bending over can result in a broken bone. Physical therapists will use weight-bearing and extension exercises to correct posture and decrease the risk of falls. Falls can often occur as a result of severe injuries for those with osteoporosis.
Physical therapy is also integral for stroke rehabilitation. Nearly 75% of strokes occur in adults 65 and older. Physical therapists may use proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF), an advanced form of flexibility training. It uses a combination of stretching and contracting muscles to stimulate and retrain the brain. Parkinson’s disease is a chronic condition that results in progressive loss of muscle control. Physical therapy for Parkinson’s disease can be helpful in managing its symptoms. For those with Parkinson’s, physical therapists will use flexibility exercises to reduce robotic movements.
If you’ve never seen a physical therapist before, you may be feeling nervous before your first appointment. After surgery, a healthcare provider will usually refer you to a physical therapist. It’s a productive way to help manage pain and regain strength after surgery or an injury. At your first visit, you can expect to have an evaluation with your physical therapist to assess your need. The therapist will also create a care plan that’s appropriate for your situation. After your evaluation, a traditional physical therapy appointment will most likely contain some of the following elements:
At Maplewood Senior Living, we’re committed to providing older adults with the tools and resources necessary for healthy aging. Our physical therapy staff works to keep our residents living independently for as long as possible. To learn more about our physical therapy department or to schedule a tour, please contact us.
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