A Case for Healthy Aging with Physical Therapy

A Case for Healthy Aging with Physical Therapy

As a physical therapist who works predominantly with older adults, I often wish my patients knew the positive role physical therapy can play in healthy aging. While physical therapy is most commonly associated with injury rehabilitation, it is also a discipline dedicated to reducing pain, maintaining or increasing physical function, and promoting mobility and proper movement; all things that concern us as we grow older. Here are a few things that your physical therapist secretly wants you to know about aging:

Pain doesn’t have to be your constant companion. As we age, we experience musculoskeletal changes that can lead to joint stiffness, postural changes, and decreased muscle mass and muscle endurance. In turn, these can lead to fractures, arthritis, posture dysfunction, and pain. Physical therapist-supervised exercise, mobility, and pain management treatment plans can ease pain while moving and at rest, improving your overall quality of life.

Surgery isn’t always the answer. According to the Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, more than 1 million people undergo joint replacement in the United States each year. While improvements in technology and techniques have made these procedures more reliable, the risks associated with surgery should make it a secondary solution. For example, knee arthritis typically makes the knee joint painful and stiff. Working with a physical therapist can help to increase the strength of the muscles supporting the knee and reduce pain. Movement helps increase circulation and blood flow, which helps reduce pain in many cases and removes the need for surgery.

Exercise can help you avoid falls and fractures. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one third of adults 65 and older fall each year in the United States, and 20-30% of people who fall suffer moderate to severe injuries. Seniors are at an increased risk of falling due to a decline in their physical and cognitive abilities. A fear of falling can also increase someone’s risk for falls. As we age, it’s common to experience a general decline in function such as decreased endurance, loss of vision, weakened posture, and balance deficits caused by orthopedic conditions or vestibular disorders. Although these changes are normal parts of aging, they can be slowed by regular exercises that target these deficits. A physical therapist can help assess your risk, design an individualized prevention plan to include exercises and balance training, address underlying medical conditions, and more.

Improving strength and balance can help promote longer independence. Many individuals worry about losing their independence over time. As a physical therapist who works with many people who require more assistance from family, friends, or caregivers as time goes on; losing one’s independence can drastically affect mood and well-being. Whether someone has a long-term disease or feels as if they need to improve their general health and wellness, physical therapy can help to restore overall functional mobility and keep older adults active longer.

We can’t stop time or the aging process; however, with the right tools and guidance, we can take steps to slow down or prevent the age-related problems that get in the way of a full and happy life. Physical therapy can be beneficial for treating many conditions and age-related health problems. Consider making them a part of your healthy aging plan.

Learn more about rehabilitation services available at Allied Services here or call 570.348.1360.

Jacqueline Pearson, PT, DPT treats patients at Allied Services Wilkes-Barre Rehab Center. She is a Licensed Physical Therapist specializing in the balance and vestibular rehab, brain injury, concussion, gait disorders, neurological conditions, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury and stroke recovery.  Jacqueline has specialization in PWR (Parkinson’s Wellness Recovery) and LSVT Big, for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. In 2018, she  became certified in the OTAGO balance program for older adults. She received Vestibular Certification from the American Institute of Balance. Jacqueline became an Indego Exoskeleton Clinical Specialist and has pursued the following continuing education to better her clients’ outcomes: NDT Parts I and II for Achieving Functional Outcomes in Adults with Hemiplegia and Balance Dysfunction and Intervention.