Drugs and surgery are not the only options to combat pain. Physical therapy enables patients to regain movement and function.
The next time she experiences severe dizziness, Claudia Jones of The Villages will know exactly where she can have it treated.
That’s good news because in November 2017 her world was spinning out of control. She developed vertigo after falling and landing on her head while attending a Marine Corps birthday ball. The accident left her feeling dizzy, disoriented, and confused.
“I felt totally turned around because my equilibrium was unstable,” says Claudia, who moved to The Villages five years ago. “I couldn’t perform routine chores like cleaning the house because I would lose my footing.”
Fortunately for Claudia, her condition was successfully treated after only four sessions at All Coast Therapy in Lady Lake. Mike Horsley, a physical therapist, utilized a series of gentle head and neck movements to relocate calcium carbonate crystals to the inner ear. When they are out of place, these crystals disrupt the flow of fluid in the ear canal, negatively affecting motion and balance.
“I was a new person,” says Claudia, who spent 26 years as a nurse in Missouri.
Claudia is one of millions of people across the globe who have relied on physical therapy to help them regain mobility and, in turn, a higher quality of life.
Physical therapists evaluate, diagnose, and treat disorders of the musculoskeletal system. Their success stems from a highly individualized, hands-on plan of care that reduces pain and restores function. By using noninvasive, drug-free techniques, they help some patients avoid negative side effects of medication and the long recovery periods of surgery.
“Some patients spend $250 to $300 trying to fix their problem with over-the-counter medication before they decide to try physical therapy,” Mike says. “And as far as surgery, that should always be a last resort because it’s not always successful. An unsuccessful surgery may lead to a lifetime of pain.”
Mike is a licensed physical therapist who joined All Coast Therapy in 2003. After an initial evaluation during a patient’s first visit, he assesses their disease or injury and then develops a plan of care that may include strengthening weak muscles and stretching tight connective tissue.
He treats common conditions like degenerative disc disease, rotator cuff tendinitis, osteoarthritis of the knee, spinal stenosis, and plantar fasciitis. He also treats lesser-known ailments such as Bell’s palsy, a form of facial paralysis, and benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), a common cause of severe dizziness.
“I had one patient who had BPPV for 38 years, and doctors told her she would have to live with it,” Mike says. “After three treatments with me, she was totally rid of it. Another man came in with such severe back pain that he bent forward and flexed to the side when he tried walking. He couldn’t even lie down to have an MRI. Through traction, manual therapy, and McKenzie extension exercises, he never had to have surgery.”
Success stories like those are also common at Mount Dora Physical Therapy Specialists, which is owned by Dave Moulder and his wife, Ana. Both became physical therapists after graduating together from the College of St. Scholastica in Minnesota. The couple opened their practice in 2012.
For them, patient education is the most crucial part of the treatment process. “Physical therapy isn’t instant gratification; it’s a lifestyle change,” Ana says. “We educate them on their pathology and teach them about therapeutic exercises they can perform at home so they can maintain an active lifestyle. We don’t heal people. The body heals itself. We try to remove roadblocks, whether it’s bad posture while looking at a laptop or spending too much time on the recliner.”
Although physical therapists do not prescribe medication, they use guided exercises and technical tools to achieve optimal outcomes. The cornerstone of physical therapy treatment is manual therapy, a hands-on approach that involves massage, mobilization, and manipulation to address pain and tension in muscles and joints. Stretching exercises and trigger-point release for muscle knots are other hands-on therapies designed to promote healing.
Physical therapists also utilize specialized tools as part of their arsenal of treatment options. At All Coast Therapy, Mike uses ultrasound, which provides deep heating to soft tissues in the body, and electrical stimulation, which uses electric impulses to reduce inflammation and swelling around a joint.
“There’s not a joint in the body I cannot treat,” Mike says.
The Moulders have enjoyed successful outcomes with cold laser therapy, a tool that uses low-power laser to enhance cellular function and accelerate the healing process. They also use a handheld device called point stimulation, which applies small electric current to acupuncture points utilized in traditional Chinese medicine.
“People are living longer and demanding more of their bodies,” Dave says. “Therefore, we’ll use every intervention available to a patient to maximize healing and reduce pain.”
In addition to being prescribed as a treatment for acute and chronic conditions, physical therapy helps patients recover from surgery. Katie Boyer, a clinic manager and physical therapist at CORA Physical Therapy in The Villages, works with many patients who have undergone total knee replacement and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) knee surgery. Much like treating injuries, patient education is an equally important component of the post-surgical recovery process.
“I show them what exercises they can do at home to speed up the recovery process, and I provide guidance so they can begin doing activities again without reinjuring themselves,” says Katie, who earned a doctor of physical therapy degree from Washington University in St. Louis. “Out of 168 hours in the week, I see them for a total of three hours. Therefore, if they do not do exercises at home, then their recovery will be prolonged.”
Katie also serves as the first line of defense in detecting post-surgical complications.
“If something is wrong, such as infections or blood clots, I will be able to tell because I see post-surgical patients three times a week,” she says. “As physical therapists, we are musculoskeletal experts and educated in anything going on with the muscles, bones, joints, and nerves.”
Seeing patients live fuller, more independent lives makes a physical therapist’s job rewarding. After all, these patients have been struggling with regular movement and have difficulty completing daily tasks.
“They stop doing leisure activities because they are in so much pain,” says Beulah Scott, chief executive officer of All Coast Therapy. “Then they come in here and after a round of therapy, they’re feeling better. They’re going back to living again and doing activities that make them happy.”
For Katie, having a patient return for the same illness or injury is deemed a failure.
“I tell them all the time that if I’m doing my job right, then I shouldn’t have to see them again.”