A physical therapy regimen is not the equivalent of a series of workouts. If you undergo physical therapy, the exercises may end up being much harder than those you experience in a gym. The difference is simple. Workouts are what healthy, uninjured people do to become more physically fit. Physical therapy is intended to treat injury or disease, to help you get back to the point where you are able to move normally, without pain or hindrance.
Types of Physical Therapy
- Mechanical or Manual Therapy can involve anything from massage to aquatic exercise to weightlifting or joint manipulation. It’s primarily meant to help you increase your strength and range of motion.
- Cold Therapy is typically used just after an injury, to prevent inflammations. Cold therapy helps to reduce pain and lessen injured tissue’s oxygen demand, which helps to preserve muscle cells. It helps to slow down a loss of muscle tone.
- Heat Therapy also reduces inflammation and helps connective tissue become more flexible, increasing the range of motion in a joint. It can also help reduce muscle spasms. Common forms of heat therapy include heating pads and hot tubs. In many cases, heat therapy helps the relax or “unfreeze” muscles that you might not even be able to move prior to the therapy.
Increased tone is at best a secondary goal of physical therapy — the primary goals being to prevent disabilities, alleviate pain, and improve your body’s normal functionality. But increased tone is a primary effect, especially given the level you might start from. One of the major emphases, and effects, of modern physical therapy is building up your core strength.
Your core strength is based on the fitness of the muscles in your abs and back. It is a measure of those muscles’ ability to support your spine and keep your body stable. One of the most common symptoms of a lack of core strength is back pain. The exercises that strengthen your core are often done for reasons other than tone–to correct bad posture or to relieve pressure on a nerve–but the exercises achieve these goals by increasing muscle tone.
Goals of Physical Therapy
If you are undergoing physical therapy, remember you are a patient, under the care of a medical professional rather than a gym trainer. You may have been bedridden for a long period of time. Your physical therapy goal should be less oriented to the idea of “killer abs” than to the idea of “walk across the room without help.” Physical therapy treatments will help tone your muscles, but the base from which you are starting from may be considerably lower than that of even a very unfit normal person. The aim of physical therapy is to restore your normal functionality, or, failing that, to allow you to overcome or work around a chronic disability.
Physical therapy is intended to treat your muscles, bones, and joints that are unable to function normally. Muscle conditioning and exercise do come into play, but remember that a particular exercise or activity is meant to reduce your pain or increase your ability rather than strengthen muscles per se.