Orthopedic physical therapy is typically what many people think of when they think of physical therapy—orthopedic PT is the rehab of musculoskeletal conditions which means issues with your bones, muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage.

Orthopedic physical therapy is one of the largest and most commonly known physical therapy specialties. It involves rehabilitation and correction of musculoskeletal injuries and impairments, including issues in the bones, muscles, joints, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments. Specifically, you may benefit from orthopedic physical therapy if you are suffering from any musculoskeletal pain, weakness, stiffness, swelling, or immobility—whether or not you have already undergone surgery to treat the underlying cause of your symptoms. In fact, while some patients are not exposed to physical therapy until they are recovering from surgery, in some cases, first-line physical therapy can actually help patients avoid surgery in the first place.

Orthopedic physical therapists treat a wide range of conditions affecting all parts of the body. These include:

Knee

  • ACL tears
  • Joint instability
  • Joint pain
  • Meniscus tears
  • Patella pain
  • Knee replacement rehabilitation

Hip

  • Bursitis
  • Joint pain
  • Hip replacement rehabilitation

Foot and Ankle

  • Achilles tendon injuries (acute and chronic)
  • Sprains
  • Foot and ankle pain
  • Heel pain
  • Plantar fasciitis

Arm, Wrist, and Hand

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Golfer’s elbow
  • Tennis elbow
  • Wrist pain
  • Sprains

Shoulder

  • Clavicle fracture
  • Frozen shoulder
  • Rotator cuff injury

Spine

  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Herniated disc
  • Low back pain
  • Scoliosis
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Torn disc

Other

  • Arthritis
  • Cartilage damage
  • Fractures
  • Lyme disease
  • Running injuries
  • Stress fractures

Injuries and impairments in the above-mentioned areas often cause pain, stiffness, weakness, and a general inability to perform activities of daily living (ADLs) or participate in competitive and/or recreational activities and sports. Orthopedic physical therapists focus on reducing or eliminating those restrictions to help patients get back to their normal routines.

To accomplish this, therapists leverage a variety of tools and techniques, including:

  • Manual therapy (e.g., soft tissue massage and join mobilization)
  • Heat, ice, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and dry needling
  • Orthotics and prosthetics
  • Assistive devices (e.g., canes and walkers)
  • Guided strengthening, flexibility, range of motion, balance, coordination, and functional mobility exercises
  • Prescribed home exercise program

Some orthopedic therapists have obtained specialty certification in orthopedic therapy. These therapists have the letters “OCS” (which stands for orthopedic clinical specialist) after their name. However, just because a therapist is not a certified orthopedic specialist does not mean he or she isn’t qualified to provide orthopedic therapy. After all, it’s a very wide area of practice, and most therapists have received extensive training in many of the above-listed treatment areas.

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