What is Physical Therapy?
When injuries result in damage to musculoskeletal parts of the body, treating physician often need to send an injured employee to a physical therapist. Physical therapy, also known as physiotherapy, is a medical service designed to develop, maintain or restore the employee’s normal body movements.
With workers compensation claims, an injured employee normally deals with a physical therapist that specializes in working with muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones and joints. Other physical therapists specialize in skin problems resulting from burns or wounds, nerve injuries and related muscle or breathing and lung problems. The physical therapist’s goal is to help the employee regain prior functioning levels. A side benefit is often pain reduction from the injured body part.
The Primary Treating Physician’s Role in Physical Therapy
When an employee injures or has surgery on a limb or joint, the treating physician often recognizes that the employee’s range of motion is limited, or the limb or joint’s functioning is below what it was before the accident or surgery. The injury created an abnormal body condition making it difficult for the employee to do normal tasks.
Primary treating physicians usually have a working relationship with various physical therapists in the local area. The physician recommends the physical therapist best suited for the employee’s type of injury. The physical therapy will be conducted in an out-patient clinic setting.
Depending on the injury’s severity and the physical therapy needs, the physician will prescribe the expected amount of physical therapy treatments the employee may need.
What Happens at Physical Therapy?
At the first visit, the physical therapist will review the injury information provided by the physician, the amount of care prescribed and then determine a treatment plan to address the employee’s needs. The treatment plan may include improving flexibility, endurance, strength, coordination and balance.
Usually the first step is to introduce therapy designed to reduce swelling, stiffness or pain. The initial modules may include water hydrotherapy, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, heat packs and cold packs. These are normally followed by stretching, walking, weight lifting and various types of exercise. The physical therapist will often teach exercises to be done at home that are specifically designed for the employee’s type of injury.
In addition, the therapist will create a total treatment plan. This will include educating the employee on how to avoid re-injury and injury caused by repetitive motion. The best physical therapists also incorporate the psychological and emotional support needed by the injured employee into their treatment plan.
Kim Lough, Vice President of Care Management Operations at Network Synergy Group, commented, “One of the key ways of delivering a positive outcome for patients during physical therapy treatment is ensuring therapy goals are tailored to the needs of each individual patient. This approach to individualized treatment plans helps ensure quality patient care while effectively managing claim costs.”
At the end of the treatment period, the employee returns to the physician to be evaluated on the progress made in recovering from the injury. The physician can request further therapy, end the therapy or try a different treatment approach.
The Outcome of Physical Therapy
The outcome of physical therapy depends on several factors including the level of disability, the type of physical impairment, any complicating medical issues (like degenerative disc disease or diabetes) and the skill and expertise of the physical therapist. Physical therapy is normally less expensive than surgery and is less invasive. Overall, physical therapy benefits the employee in most cases where it is used.
Author Rebecca Shafer, JD, President of Amaxx Risk Solutions, Inc. is a national expert in the field of workers compensation. She is a writer, speaker, and publisher. Her expertise is working with employers to reduce workers compensation costs, and her clients include airlines, healthcare, printing/publishing, pharmaceuticals, retail, hospitality, and manufacturing. She is the author of the #1 selling book on cost containment, Workers Compensation Management Program: Reduce Costs 20% to 50%. Contact: RShafer@ReduceYourWorkersComp.com.
Editor Michael B. Stack, CPA, Director of Operations, Amaxx Risk Solutions, Inc. is an expert in employer communication systems and part of the Amaxx team helping companies reduce their workers compensation costs by 20% to 50%. He is a writer, speaker, and website publisher. www.reduceyourworkerscomp.com. Contact: email@example.com.
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