Physical therapy is a medical practice using biomechanical processes—essentially, “body movement”—to achieve the goals of restoring function, relieving pain, and/or improving fitness levels for a patient.
Now, when most people hear the term physical therapy, the first thing that comes to mind is often a professional or collegiate athlete injured during a game or practice. That certainly is understandable – after all, sports injuries are often well-communicated and monitored, especially in this day and age of 24/7 news cycles.
Of course, it also makes sense because physical therapy does play an integral role in allowing people to go back to their favorite sports.
That said, physical therapy and foot health are related even for non-athletes.
For example, physical therapy is often used to help a patient recover from foot or ankle surgery (regardless as to whether or not physical activity necessitated the surgery). Stretches and other exercises are important for things like restoring range of motion and developing flexibility and muscle strength. This kind of therapy also promotes healthy blood circulation—which is so important as the body works to repair itself following the procedure.
Whereas physical therapy is an effective tool in helping you recover from surgery, it is sometimes prescribed as part of conservative care for a foot or ankle issue. Doctors may recommend this practice for individuals who suffer from long-term health problems or have been injured in some capacity. In this capacity, the therapy may entail a program of stretching or strengthening exercises to improve an existing condition.
Foot and ankle conditions that can benefit from physical therapy include:
- Ankle sprains – Sprained ankles are highly common—even for non-athletes—but returning to action too soon after an ankle sprain increases the likelihood of ankle instability and recurring injury. A better approach is to incorporate physical therapy into the treatment plan. This serves to gradually and strategically ramp up activity levels so the ankle can regain full functionality (without the risk for long-term issues).
- Achilles tendonitis – As with an ankle sprain, this injury can easily recur if the damaged tendon isn’t fully healed before returning to activity. A proper physical therapy plan will serve to reduce the risk of an Achilles tendon rupture by gradually ramping up the intensity of stretching and strengthening exercises.
- Plantar fasciitis – This is the most common source of heel pain for adults, and it can also be treated with physical therapy, including stretches to keep the muscles and connective tissues in your feet, ankles, and lower legs limber.
- Neuropathy – If damaged nerves have caused muscle weakness, physical therapy is a potential treatment option to improve movements and restore balance.
- Arthritis – Your foot and ankle has 33 different joints. This means there is lots of opportunity for arthritis—a condition of swollen, inflamed, and painful joints—to develop. One of the best conservative treatment options for arthritis in feet and ankles is physical therapy consisting of stretches and strengthening exercises.
In addition to treatment, physical therapy can also be used on a preventative basis. Physical therapists are trained in the field of kinesiology—the science of how our bodies move—and well-versed in a range of exercises. Combined, these two factors allow physical therapists to create plans that improve flexibility, balance, strengthen, and range-of-motion (in joints), all of which are essential in reducing injury risk.
For more information about physical therapy—no matter if you’re an athlete or it’s been some time since your last physical activity—contact North Austin Foot & Ankle Institute by calling (512) 593-2949. While on the line, be sure to request your appointment!