What Is Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy (PT) is a patient-preferred, non-pharmaceutical approach for addressing injury, chronic pain, or restricted mobility. As a less-invasive approach than surgery, PT can help patients rehabilitate and regain bodily function, manage pain, prevent injury, and improve mobility, flexibility, and balance.

Physical therapy is prescribed most often to patients with serious pain or mobility issues, ranging from athletes and individuals recovering from injuries to individuals with chronic conditions and developmental challenges.

The Benefits of Physical Therapy

Reducing or Eliminating Pain

Recovering from or preventing injuries

Decreasing fall risk to enhance safety and independence

Improving mobility

Improving balance

Avoiding or recovering from surgery

Managing age-related issues such as joint pain and arthritis

Recovering from a stroke

Avoiding dependence on opioids or other pain medications

Improving cardiovascular function

Managing chronic diabetes and cardiovascular conditions

Addressing women’s health issues including pregnancy and post-partum care

Who Provides
Physical Therapy?

Physical therapists are state-licensed healthcare professionals who have trained for years to provide safe, personalized, and optimized care to patients who can benefit from physical therapy.

Physical therapist assistants (PTAs) are healthcare professionals who provide physical therapy services under the direction and supervision of a licensed physical therapist.

The Value of Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is an effective, lower cost alternative to invasive procedures and pharmacological treatments. Physical therapy results in lower healthcare costs due to lower likelihood of receiving opioid prescription medications, epidural injections, follow-up advanced imaging, and follow-up physician visits, without compromising patient outcomes.

Physical therapy also helps reduce total spending on Medicare Parts A & B.

On average, spending for beneficiaries who receive physical therapy as the first treatment option are:

  • 19% lower than total average Medicare spending for patients who receive injections first.
  • 75% lower than total average spending for Medicare patients who undergo surgery first.

Physical therapy is often practiced in an outpatient setting because many patients prefer care in community-based physical therapy offices that are conveniently located close to home. Under the care of physical therapists and PTAs, patients receive safe, effective, and personalized care and build relationships with healthcare professionals who best understand the physical, psychological, financial, and social contexts of the community.

Physical Therapy is a Promising, Cost-Effective Solution to Falls

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 30 million elderly Americans fall every year – a figure representing roughly one-quarter of all seniors. Unfortunately, this problem is only expected to worsen as America’s population grows older: fall injuries and deaths are likely to increase.

The cost burden for this epidemic is immense – and growing:

  • $101 Billion: Projected cost of treating falls by 2030
  • $50 Billion: Total medical expenditures associated with falls in 2015 alone
  • $81,300: Average lifetime costs for patients are caused by a fall-related injury
  • $30,000: Average hospital cost for a fall-related injury

In addressing this epidemic, the U.S. healthcare system has an invaluable tool at its disposal: physical therapy. According to the National Institute on Aging, patient-specific exercise regimens, utilized in combination with regular physical activity, are evidence-based solutions that can significantly reduce the likelihood of an accidental fall.

Physical therapy prescribed treatments enable patients to remain steady and maintain their independence. Physical therapists are also trained to conduct patient home assessments which evaluate a patient’s living space and identify potential fall hazards. In fact, a recent study showed that older citizens who underwent an exercise intervention from a trained healthcare professional lowered their risk of a fall by 31%.

In short, physical therapy helps improve older Americans’ balance, strength, and independence –– while bolstering patient outcomes and preventing costly (and often avoidable) injuries.

APTQI ONE-PAGER: Elderly Falls: A Deadly and Escalating Epidemic

APTQI INFOGRAPHIC: Falls Among the Elderly