What Do Physical Therapists Do for the Elderly?

Reviewed on 6/9/2021

Physical therapy can be beneficial to seniors and improve their quality of life in many ways. Physical therapy can help seniors restore functionality, reduce pain, recover from injury, reduce the risk of falls, and more.
Physical therapy can be beneficial to seniors and improve their quality of life in many ways. Physical therapy can help seniors restore functionality, reduce pain, recover from injury, reduce the risk of falls, and more.

Physical therapy can be used to restore functionality, reduce pain and improve quality of life for seniors. It can help older people recover from injury, illness, or surgical procedures, and improve strength, flexibility, and mobility. 

Physical therapy can help the elderly with numerous conditions, such as: 

There are many benefits for physical therapy for the elderly: 

  • Reduces the risk of falls
    • Improves strength and balance
    • Teaches techniques to prevent falls
  • Reduces the risk of injury
    • Teaches stability 
  • Reducing pain from chronic conditions
  • Reduces the need for medications
    • Managing chronic pain through physical therapy may make patients less reliant on prescription drugs
  • Fosters independence
    • The quicker a person can recover from injury or illness, and the better a person can manage pain, the more able they are to lead an active and independent lifestyle

Physical therapy for the elderly usually combines modalities such as: 

  • Manual therapy
    • The therapist uses his or her hands to relax the patient, reduce pain, and improve flexibility. It may include:
      • Massage for relaxation, improving circulation, and pain relief
      • Mobilization, which helps loosen tight joints and increases flexibility
      • Manipulation, which uses fast, forceful movements to relieve pain and realign joints and bones
  • Cold therapy
    • Used to relieve pain, swelling, and inflammation
    • Ice packs are used for 15-to-20-minute sessions, ice massage, and RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation)
  • Heat therapy
    • Used to relax muscles and improve circulation
    • Helps loosen stiff joints
    • Also loosens muscles before exercise 
  • Hydrotherapy
    • Uses water to help heal soft tissues, increase blood flow, and promote relaxation
  • Electrical stimulation
    • Electrical currents are used to create a certain effect in the body, such as reducing pain or contracting muscles in stroke patients
  • Ultrasound
    • Uses sound waves to reduce muscle spasms and relax the muscles before and after exercise
  • Stretching 
  • Walking 

Common types of physical therapy for seniors include: 

  • Geriatric physical therapy
  • Orthopedic physical therapy
    • For treatment of musculoskeletal injuries or to help with recovery from orthopedic surgery
    • Works to restore function to muscles, bones, joints, tendons, and ligaments
  • Cardiopulmonary physical therapy
  • Neurological physical therapy
    • Focuses on the brain and the body
    • Used for neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, ALS, Parkinson’s disease or patients with brain injury
    • Teaches patients to adapt to impairments in vision, mobility, balance, and muscle loss to more easily complete activities of daily living

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Reviewed on 6/9/2021
References
https://www.asccare.com/4-types-physical-therapy-seniors/

https://www.seniorliving.org/health/physical-therapy/