What is Physical Therapy for Seniors?

Mike Olmos by Mike Olmos | Licensed since 2010
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This article was updated on: 09/15/2018

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A licensed medical professional, called a physical therapist, uses non-invasive and drug-free techniques to treat patients with a variety of different medical conditions, according to the American Physical Therapy Association. Doctors may prescribe physical therapy to help patients restore physical function, relieve pain, and strengthen supportive muscles. The benefits of physical therapy over strong medications or surgery could include avoiding negative side effects and enjoying a shorter recovery period.

Physical therapists typically have extensive training in anatomy and physiology, reports the National Institutes of Health. These providers generally guide patients through motion-based techniques to help build strength, regain range of motion, and achieve other goals specific to the patient’s condition.

What are some of the benefits of physical therapy?

Physical therapy is widely used in many ways and for many conditions that may affect aging people. Here are a few examples.

The National Institutes of Health reports that physical therapy can help some people recover from strokes. Physical therapists use techniques to restore function to limbs affected by stroke when possible, and teach patients how to compensate for lost function. They help patients regain coordination and balance.

The Centers for Disease Control promotes physical therapy when appropriate to help health-care providers avoid opioids (pain killers).

According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), in some cases physical therapy may help you avoid surgery for conditions such as:

  • Degenerative disk disease
  • Torn rotator cuffs
  • Osteoarthritis in the knee
  • Meniscal tears
  • Spinal stenosis

Besides getting prescribed as a treatment for chronic disease, physical therapy can also help patients recover after an injury, illness, or surgery, the APTA reports. The physical therapist can help patients regain their strength, relearn how to perform various tasks or movements, and improve endurance.

These examples of common ailments demonstrate a few ways that physical therapy might help older people:

  • Arthritis: The Centers for Disease Control reports that physical therapycan help maintain and restore balance, coordination, and strength. It might also help relieve pain. A physical therapist may have the patient perform certain exercises or use electrical stimulation.
  • Osteoporosis: This condition can lead to falls, according to the National Institutes of Health. A physical therapistwill work with the patient to strengthen muscles, maintain better posture, and regain balance. Physical therapy can reduce the risk of falls and injuries from falls.
  • Incontinence: The physical therapistmay be able to help the patient strengthen the right muscles to regain control, according to the National Institutes of Health.

How Original Medicare covers physical therapy

Depending upon if the physical therapist accepts Medicare assignment, services might be covered under Original Medicare either by Part A (hospital insurance) or Part B (medical insurance). For example, Part A may cover rehab facility or hospital inpatient therapy. Part B may cover outpatient physical therapy that might be provided in a clinic or office.

With just Original Medicare, physical therapy services will likely generate some out-of-pocket costs. For example, Medicare Part B caps the limit they will pay each year. Also, you still have to pay the 20% coinsurance per visit and applicable deductibles each year. A coinsurance and/or deductible amount may also apply under Part A.

A Medicare Supplement plan or Medicare Advantage plan might help you save money on medically-necessary physical therapy. I hope to help you research local Medicare health plans to find the ones that might provide you with convenient and affordable access to the medical care that you need.

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