The Growing Benefits of Physical Therapy

“Where others see limitation, we see potential.” That was a motto of the American Physical Therapy Association when it was formed in 1921 to serve soldiers injured during World War I. That adage still holds true today. With research and advancements in treatment methods and technology, the benefits and possibilities of physical therapy have grown tenfold since then and innovations happen every day.

Through exercise, flexibility, stabilization and other treatments, physical therapy can help reduce pain and regain range of motion – restoring physical function lost or limited by an injury, pain, weakness or lack of flexibility. Today, physical therapy cutting-edge techniques include aquatics, strength training, light therapy, laser therapy, robotics, virtual reality, gaming and even apps.

The Benefits of Physical Therapy

Physical therapists today are highly skilled and knowledgeable about the latest therapies and treatments. Multiple benefits of physical therapy may help patients:

  • Avoid or postpone surgery
  • Improve mobility and movement
  • Recover from injury, trauma, stroke or paralysis
  • Prevent falls
  • Improve balance
  • Manage pain with less need for prescription drugs
  • Manage age-related medical problems

Physical Therapy vs. Surgery

Surgery can seem inevitable for many exploring treatments for relief from hip, shoulder, back and leg pain. However, joint pain and stability issues do not always have to lead to surgery. Physical therapy is a conservative, noninvasive treatment option for treating pain. In some cases, physical therapy can even be as effective as surgery, delaying some procedures and eliminating others.

“There’s no doubt that there are times surgery is the only way to treat a physical condition. But often, the noninvasive approach – physical therapy – can be as effective as surgery,” says Liyongo Tolin, Clinical Specialist Physical Therapist at the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan. Tolin adds that surgery is not always the quickest path to recovery, as physical therapy can still be necessary for months afterward. Trying physical therapy first could potentially eliminate surgery, plus all the downtime from procedure and recovery.

According to Tolin, early physical therapy can also prevent future surgeries when it comes to degenerative conditions. For example, if you are fighting hip pain, you may favor one side of your body and put additional pressure on the opposite knee. Over time, that could cause knee degeneration and lead to surgery later. Taking care of joint pain through the appropriate physical therapy can potentially avoid surgeries later.


Physical therapy before surgery – sometimes referred to as prehabilitation – also can help minimize pain, reduce muscle atrophy and help restore the range of motion. Treatment beforehand also decreases the chance of complications following surgery. In other words, helping the patient get to a better place physically before an operation may help the level of function after. In some cases, insurance companies will require physical therapy before scheduling an MRI or surgery.

Don’t Delay Care

Is physical therapy a cure-all? Not necessarily, but it may be a viable option over surgery. It’s also important to remember that physical therapy does take time, and patients must put in the effort to see results.

Don’t delay care. Be sure to talk with a doctor about your best course of treatment. When pain or injury occurs, seek care as soon as possible so conservative treatments such as physical therapy can be considered and provide the most benefit.

To find a DMC physical therapy clinic near you, visit

American College of Surgeons
New England Journal of Medicine
U.S. National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health

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