How Much Physical Therapy is too Much Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy is your best ally when it comes to dealing with chronic pain. When done right with a trusted therapist, you can bounce back from your injury without too much delay. However, there is a risk at overdoing physical therapy and this will not benefit you at all.

Overdoing Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is your best ally when it comes to dealing with chronic pain. When done right with a trusted therapist, you can bounce back from your injury without too much delay. However, there is a risk at overdoing physical therapy and this will not benefit you at all. Here is how you would know when physical therapy becomes too much.

Physical Therapy 101

The first step of knowing for certain that you are overdoing physical therapy is to understand what it is and how it treats the pain. Physical therapy targets the cause of your pain and works on that. For example, if your pain is caused by rheumatoid arthritis, then the therapy will focus on how to alleviate symptoms by doing a certain series of movements specifically designed to do just that. Some physical therapy treatments include:

  • Pain relief movements. This is done in a very gradual and gentle manner. Healing is the focus here so the adage, “No pain, no gain” certainly does not apply.
  • Stretching. This is needed to improve flexibility and strength. Physical therapists who know what they are doing should be gentle with their patients and should not overstretch them.
  • Low-impact exercises. Coming from an injury or surgery, you are expected to start slow. These exercises are designed to help you gradually regain your strength while taking it easy with your muscles and joints.
  • Strengthening exercises. This is more advanced and more strenuous. Only those whose health condition can allow it should be given this type of therapy. Here, you are expected to do multiple series of lunges, squats, and pushups. The main goal here is to buff up and not healing.

What to expect

Physical therapists utilize various methods to respond to your needs. Here are some of them:

  • He/She may use transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) which sends low-voltage electric current through your skin over the area where the pain emanates from. This has been proven to provide temporary relief so you can do some of the low-impact or pain relief exercises.
  • Massage can be another technique your physical therapist may employ. It should not be painful, however, if a degree of pressure applied on a certain part of your body causes pain, inform your therapist immediately.
  • Heat and ice packs are particularly useful, too. A cold ice pack is used to reduce inflammation. Heat, on the other hand, warms up the muscles and joints so that they are stimulated enough to function better.

Too much?

How do you know if you are overdoing physical therapy? Here are some points to consider that can lead you to answer this question:

  • Track your metrics.  Take note of your capacity threshold. If strengthening is your goal, you should gradually increase your threshold by going a little above your tissue capacity. Do not go overboard, however. Stress applied should still be manageable. If healing is your goal, be extra gentle and be gradual at increasing your capacity. To learn more about your capacity threshold as well as your threshold goals, you should talk about it with your therapist.
  • One to two hours is enough therapy session for a day. More than that would be too much especially if your target is healing. Take it gradually. There are no shortcuts to full recovery. Be patient.
  • Depending on the injury, physical therapy typically run its course from six to eight months.

Symptoms of too much PT

Here are some of the common tell-tale signs when you are overdoing physical therapy:

  • Persistent pain that lasts for a significant amount of time after the session
  • Inflammation of joints
  • Soreness even after two days after physical therapy session
  • Excessive bruising
  • Muscle failure

There used to be a misconception that the most effective physical therapy is that which causes pain. That is not so. Pain is a sign that something is wrong. If you feel any discomfort in the middle of the therapy, inform your therapist immediately so proper diagnosis and intervention can be done.

Finding a good therapist

An excellent physical therapist can create a program specifically designed for your needs without risk of overdoing physical therapy. For you to find a good therapist, here are some things you that you should keep in mind:

  • Make sure your physical therapist has proper credentials. You can ask for his/her certification.
  • Get recommendations. Your doctor can help you find a good match for a therapist. You can also do research by asking current patients about the physical therapist whose services they have employed.
  • Be upfront with fees and the duration of your sessions.
  • Have some initial meetings with prospective therapist before committing to a long-term program.
  • Look for a well-equipped and highly-recommended clinic.
  • Since physical therapy can be quite expensive, you can look into your insurance policy and if it covers such services.

Physical therapy, when done right, will help you get in shape in no time. However, that does not erase the possibility of overdoing physical therapy. With an excellent therapist and an equally effective program, the risk of going overboard is virtually erased and you can achieve your therapy goals well within your target schedule.

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