Physical therapists are college graduates who, after two to three years of postgraduate education, obtain an advanced degree in Physical Therapy and are state licensed practitioners. Other medical specialists (such as spine surgeons, chiropractors, and physiatrists) frequently refer their patients to a Physical Therapist.
Therapists examine patients' medical histories, test and measure strength, range of motion, balance and coordination, posture, muscle performance, respiration, and motor function. Next, they develop treatment plans that include treatment goals, steps, and anticipated outcome. During a course of treatment, physical therapists document the patient's progress, conduct periodic examinations, and modify treatments as necessary.
For patients who have been immobilized and lack flexibility, strength, or endurance, treatment often includes exercise. Physical therapy encourages patients to use their own muscles to further increase flexibility and range of motion before finally advancing to other exercises improving strength, balance, coordination, and endurance.
To relieve pain and reduce swelling, physical therapy often includes the use of modalities, or passive physical therapy, such as electrical stimulation, hot packs or cold compresses, and ultrasound. Traction or deep-tissue massage may also be used to relieve pain. When necessary, therapists teach patients to use assistive and adaptive devices (such as crutches) and frequently teach patients exercises to do at home to expedite their recovery.
Physical therapists often consult and practice with a variety of other professionals, and some are part of an integrated spine practice. Some physical therapists treat a wide range of ailments; others specialize in areas such as orthopedics, sports medicine, or neurology.
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Occupational therapists (O.T.)
The American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc. describes an O.T. as "skilled treatment that helps individuals achieve independence in all facets of their lives." Occupational Therapy gives people the "Skills for the Job of Living" they need to live satisfying lives. Services typically include:
- Specific therapy programs to improve the patient's abilities to carry out normal daily activities
- Evaluation of work and home environments and recommendations on necessary adaptation
- Assessments and treatment for performance skills
- Recommendations and training in the use of adaptive equipment to replace lost function
- Guidance to family members and attendants in safe and effective methods of caring for individuals.
Occupational therapists' education includes the study of human growth and development with specific emphasis on the social, emotional, and physiological effects of illness and injury. The occupational therapist enters the field with a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree. Practitioners must complete supervised clinical internships in a variety of health care settings, and pass a national examination. Most states also regulate occupational therapy practice.
The HCFA definition of a clinical psychologist is "an individual who holds a doctoral degree in psychology; and is licensed or certified, on the basis of the doctoral degree in psychology by the State in which he or she practices, at the independent practice level of psychology to furnish diagnostic, assessment, preventive, and therapeutic services directly to individuals."
After completing a Ph.D. program in psychology, some psychologists complete further training focusing specifically on the treatment of chronic pain. Psychologists can help people with stress relief, as well as coping with chronic back or neck pain. They can also treat depression, which is fairly common for patients suffering from chronic pain.