10 Lesser Known Conditions Physical Therapy Can Help Treat

When we think about physical therapy, we usually have visions of athletes recovering from sports injuries or patients being treated after a car or work accident. However, many of us are not aware that physical therapy can be an effective tool for a wide range of conditions, from common disorders to more specialized conditions.

At Oakland Spine & Physical Therapy, we see firsthand how effective physical therapy can be as a way to strengthen the body and promote healing. Our patients are proof of the benefits physical therapy offers and we’ve expanded to provide more convenient care throughout the North Jersey region with locations in Oakland, as well as  Wayne, Closter, and Fair Lawn, New Jersey.

Physical therapy can be a useful part of many recovery plans and is extra-beneficial when paired with chiropractic care. While chiropractic care can place the body back into proper balance, physical therapy can supplement this progress by strengthening muscles and joints, while also enhancing flexibility, balance and mobility.

And while many of the patients a physical therapist will see have experienced a fall, car accident or back injury, there are many lesser known diagnoses that a physical therapist can help improve. As you’ll see, physical therapy has wide-ranging benefits with the added bonus of being safe, drug-free and non-invasive. Let’s explore some of the less common conditions physical therapy can help with.

Vertigo

Vertigo is dizziness that causes a false sense of spinning or moving even when one is being perfectly still. The most common type of vertigo is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) and occurs as a result of an inner ear problem that affects the vestibular nerve, which controls balance.

A form of physical therapy known as vestibular rehabilitation therapy (VRT) can help patients suffering from BPPV. The goal of VRT is to assist an individual with predicting vertigo caused by identifiable triggers and proactively taking steps to prevent episodes from occurring. In some cases, a physical therapist can resolve positional vertigo in just a single session.

Headaches

A “headache” is an umbrella term that can refer to many types of head pain, from tension headaches to migraine and cluster headaches. Tension headaches are particularly receptive to physical therapy since they are often caused by poor posture, neck injury, muscle tightness, or stress.

A physical therapist will begin by identifying the underlying causes of the headaches and then develop a treatment plan, which may include manual massages to loosen tight muscles. Exercises that focus on strengthening muscles in the upper back, or movements that help teach the patient proper posture often help to reduce stress on the neck and head.

Concussion

Concussions have received significant attention in recent years as we learn more about their lasting issues, including balance problems, headaches, and dizziness. These happen to also be conditions which a physical therapist can help treat.

Physical therapy is recommended as part of active rehabilitation following a concussion. Receiving care from a physical therapist after a concussion can help an athlete return to their sport symptom-free. It can also help non-athletes who were involved in car or work accidents resume normal life faster. By promptly addressing balance issues and other symptoms, a physical therapist can help prevent someone from further injury and assist with exercise tolerance.

Osteoarthritis

In past generations, osteoarthritis was looked at as just another part of old age. But over the years, the medical community has made significant advancements and arthritis doesn’t mean you have to live with chronic pain and immobility for years. Although it’s the most common joint disease in the US, most people don’t think about physical therapy for care and management of osteoarthritis.

A physical therapist however can help a patient with osteoarthritis in a number of ways. First, they can help address inflammation with manual therapy exercises and also assist with improving range-of-motion by suggesting specific exercises which strengthen surrounding muscles. This combination of therapies can help to reduce pain and increase mobility.

Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction (TMD)

The temporomandibular joint connects your jaw to your skull and when this joint becomes over-stressed or out of alignment, pain and jaw movement issues can occur.  Temporomandibular joint dysfunction is more commonly known as TMJ but this is a bit of a misnomer, as TMJ refers to the joint, not the disorder. TMD encompasses a series of symptoms such as jaw pain, “clicking” sounds in this area and the feeling that your jaw is “catching” while chewing, talking, or yawning.

Physical therapy can help treat TMD by addressing underlying causes, like teeth clenching and head posture which can put undue stress on the temporomandibular joint. A physical therapist will often use a combination of manual and exercise techniques to help relieve jaw pain and improve the temporomandibular joint’s range of motion.

Pelvic Floor Problems

Frequently experienced by women after pregnancy, pelvic floor problems are a common issue that physical therapy can help resolve. In fact, many physical therapists receive specialized training for treating issues related to the pelvic floor, which can include urinary incontinence, pain, or sexual dysfunction.

Targeted exercises, yoga poses, and stretches can be used to help strengthen pelvic floor muscles. A physical therapist will also teach a patient better ways to lift objects, carry children, and stand up to reduce pain. Physical therapy for pelvic floor problems may also include the use of hot or cold packs, electrical stimulation, and manual massages or manipulations to alleviate pelvic floor pain or weakness.

Osteoporosis

Common in people, particularly women, over the age of 50, unlike the other conditions we’ve covered, osteoporosis doesn’t cause pain or mobility issues. Many people don’t know they suffer from this loss of bone density until they suffer a fall or other minor accident which causes bone fractures and a cascade of mobility issues. That’s why it’s important to practice proactive care over the age of 50 and get checked for osteoporosis.

Physical therapy can assist with managing this condition by providing specific resistance training exercises that encourage bone growth, thereby improving bone density. This coupled with balance training can help prevent falls which can result in serious injury and impact life expectancy.

Fibromyalgia

Since long-term chronic pain is one area that physical therapists specialize in, it would make sense that physical therapy could be beneficial for a disorder associated with long-term widespread pain. Fibromyalgia remains a mysterious condition with no known cause or specific cure. It’s characterized by aches and pain that do not go away, along with mood changes, sleep issues and chronic fatigue.

Since each person suffering from fibromyalgia can have a unique set of symptoms, the personalized care that physical therapy provides can be quite beneficial. In the physical therapy setting, a patient can work one-on-one with a therapist to develop a specific treatment plan for their specific needs. Using manual massages, stretches and targeted exercises, a physical therapist will address the stiffness, range of motion issues, and fatigue concerns, which can also help to improve a patient’s mood and sleep problems.

Diabetes

Physical activity plays a crucial role in the management of diabetes, a condition characterized by elevated blood sugar levels. Frequent exercise helps lower blood sugar, but diabetic patients often suffer from symptoms that make moving difficult. Common complications associated with diabetes include weakness, balance problems, pain, loss of sensation, and lack of endurance.

Physical therapy can help alleviate discomfort, improve mobility, and assist with healing diabetes-related skin conditions. This allows individuals with diabetes to establish a safe, effective exercise routine. Oftentimes, a physical therapist will work with the patient to teach exercises that build strength, coordination, flexibility, and endurance.

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a chronic, progressive movement disorder that causes nerve cells in the brain to deteriorate. Although the causes for this illness remain unknown, symptoms include tremors, slowed movements, and balance problems which become progressively worse over time. While Parkinson’s disease is incurable, its progression can be slowed with the help of physical therapy.

A physical therapist can help an individual with Parkinson’s disease remain independent for longer by guiding them through exercises that boost mobility, balance, and strength. For example, “cueing” is a training exercise that lessens shuffling and freezing while walking. During physical therapy, patients can also learn strategies for minimizing tremors.

As you can see, physical therapy does more than just help with sports injuries and accident recovery. There are many chronic conditions that physical therapy can improve that will allow you to experience pain relief and greater mobility. If you’re curious if your condition can be improved through physical therapy, reach out to Oakland Spine & Physical Therapy. We provide physical therapy care for patients throughout North Jersey and are happy to answer new patient questions. Our four offices, located in Oakland, Wayne, Closter, and Fair Lawn, New Jersey provide traditional as well as evening and weekend office hours to make physical therapy more accessible to residents of New Jersey and the surrounding area.