It was the last minute of the big soccer game. Kelly was running toward the goal line hoping to kick the winning point when she crashed into another player. Ouch! When she tried to stand up, Kelly's leg really hurt. Her parents took her to the emergency room. There, a doctor told Kelly she had broken her right leg.
Kelly would have to use crutches and wear a cast for 6 weeks. She was worried. What would happen when her leg was healed? Would it ever be strong enough for soccer or softball again? Several days after the accident, Kelly's parents took her to a physical therapist. "Don't worry," he said. "I'll have you running and kicking in no time."
What Is Physical Therapy?
Physical therapy uses exercises and other special treatments to help people make their bodies healthier and stronger. A physical therapist can treat different conditions in many ways, including massage, heat and cold treatments, or electric stimulation. They might also help a person use exercise equipment like a treadmill, step or stair climber, or stationary bicycle. More than 90,000 physical therapists treat nearly 1 million people every day.
Who Needs It?
Physical therapists work with people of all ages and in a variety of places. Some work in schools with children who have physical disabilities. Many physical therapists work in hospitals or clinics. They may work with children who are recovering from injuries like a broken arm or a sprained ankle. Other kids who have medical conditions like cerebral palsy or juvenile rheumatoid arthritis or kids who were born without a leg or arm may be helped with physical therapy.
Some physical therapists work with athletes. They design fitness training programs and help athletes like Kelly recover from injuries. Physical therapy can also help relieve pain and prevent complications from developing after an operation or illness.
Visiting the Physical Therapist
A visit to the physical therapist is easy and can even be fun! During the first visit, the physical therapist will evaluate your condition. He or she will figure out how flexible or strong your body is, how well you are able to do things like get in and out of bed, and whether you can walk on your own or need to use a cane or wheelchair.
Then the therapist creates a treatment plan just for you. Kelly learned how to walk and go up steps with her crutches as well as several exercises she could do at home. The exercises made sure her muscles didn't get weak while she couldn't walk.
As soon as Kelly's cast was removed, the real work began. She learned how to stretch her leg muscles. She also rode a stationary bicycle and walked on a treadmill. Her therapist applied ice packs to the leg afterward to reduce pain and swelling. Sometimes, he used a machine that sent a mild electrical current to the muscles in her leg through pads applied to the skin. The electrical stimulation also reduced pain and swelling and helped relieve stiffness. Some days Kelly got to work out in a heated swimming pool. Using the water to support her body made it easier to move.
Physical therapists use other treatments, as well. Most help to reduce inflammation and pain in the area being treated, and may include:
- heat packs
- ultrasound (vibrations with frequencies above the range that humans can hear)
- whirlpool bath (a bath that uses whirling currents of warm water)
How Long Will My Treatment Last?
Most physical therapy sessions last 45 to 60 minutes. Kids with a minor injury are usually completely healed within 6 weeks. Children who use physical therapy to increase their independence may visit a physical therapist once a week for many years.
Kids who need to see a physical therapist can help speed their own progress by following instructions. Learn the exercises given to you by the therapist. Do them at home just like any other homework. Don't overdo it, though. Tossing your crutches aside too soon can do more harm than good. But if you do as your physical therapist tells you, all that hard work will pay off!
Reviewed by: Doug Huisenga, PT, ATC
Date reviewed: March 2001
Source: KidsHealth www.KidsHealth.com is a project of The Nemours Foundation which is dedicated to improving the health and spirit of children. Today, as part of its continuing mission, the Foundation supports the operation of a number of renowned children's health facilities throughout the nation, including the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware, and the Nemours Children's Clinics throughout Florida. Visit The Nemours Foundation to find out more about them and its health facilities for children http://www.nemours.org/no/