Common symptoms and conditions treated by orthopedic physical therapists
Low Back Pain
If you have low back pain, you are not alone. At any given time, about 25% of people in the United States report having low back pain within the past 3 months. In most cases, low back pain is mild and disappears on its own. For some people, back pain can return or hang on, leading to a decrease in quality of life or even to disability. Physical therapists help people with low back pain improve or restore mobility and reduce their pain.
Neck pain is pain felt in the back of the neck – the upper spine area, just below the head. When certain nerves are affected, the pain can extend beyond the back of the neck to areas such as the upper back, shoulder, and arm. It is estimated that neck pain affects approximately 30% of the US population each year. Neck pain can be caused by sudden trauma such as a fall, sports injury, or car accident, or by long-term problems in the spine.
Neck pain most frequently affects adults aged 30 to 50 years. Some studies indicate that women are more likely to suffer neck pain than men. Poor posture, obesity, smoking, repetitive lifting, office and computer work, and involvement in athletic activity are all risk factors for developing neck pain.
People with neck pain can have difficulty performing activities such as working, driving, playing sports, or simply turning their heads. The majority of neck pain episodes do not require surgery and respond best to physical therapy. Physical therapists design individualized treatment programs to help people with neck pain reduce or eliminate pain, regain normal movement, and get back to their regular activities.
Knee pain can result from disease, overuse injury, or trauma. Among American adults, approximately 25% have experienced knee pain that affects the function of their knee. Knee pain and conditions related to the knee are common. In runners, the knee is the part of the body that is injured most often. Changes to the knee related to aging (osteoarthritis) commonly occur in people over the age of 50. Thousands of steps, squats, and twists to the knee over a long life can cause changes to cartilage and other parts of the knee.
Knee pain also occurs in growing children. Pain can reduce their participation in physical activities, which may lead to other problems later in life. Changes in the posture of the knee as well as the lower extremity (hip, leg, and ankle) during growth can cause pain in children and teenagers. These developmental changes can affect knee function.
Knee pain can be mild, or it can be severe and sharp. Knee injuries can result from a direct blow to the knee or a sudden movement that strains the knee beyond the normal range of motion. Knee pain can make it hard to walk, rise from a chair, climb stairs, or play sports. Physical therapists are trained to diagnose and treat knee pain and to help ease your pain and restore movement. They also can work together with other members of your health care team.
"Arthritis" is a term used to describe inflammation of the joints. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and usually is caused by the deterioration of a joint. Typically, the weight-bearing joints are affected, with the knee and the hip being the most common.
An estimated 27 million Americans have some form of OA. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 2 people in the United States (US) may develop knee OA by age 85, and 1 in 4 may develop hip OA in their lifetime. Until age 50, men and women are equally affected by OA; after age 50, women are affected more than men. Over their lifetimes, 21% of overweight and 31% of obese adults are diagnosed with arthritis.
OA affects daily activity and is the most common cause of disability in the US adult population. Although OA does not always require surgery, such as a joint replacement, it has been estimated that the use of total joint replacement in the US will increase 174% for hips and 673% for knees by the year 2030.
Physical therapists help patients understand OA and its complications, provide treatments to lessen pain and improve movement, and offer education about obesity and healthy lifestyle choices.
An anterior cruciate ligament tear is an injury to the knee commonly affecting athletes, such as soccer players, basketball players, skiers, and gymnasts. Nonathletes can also experience an ACL tear due to injury or accident. Approximately 200,000 ACL injuries are diagnosed in the United States each year. It is estimated that there are 95,000 ruptures of the ACL and 100,000 ACL reconstructions performed per year in the United States. Approximately 70% of ACL tears in sports are the result of noncontact injuries, and 30% are the result of direct contact (player-to-player, player-to-object). Women are more likely than men to experience an ACL tear. Physical therapists are trained to help individuals with ACL tears reduce pain and swelling, regain strength and movement, and return to desired activities.
Chronic pain is a condition that occurs when the brain concludes there is a threat to a person's well-being based on the many signals it receives from the body. This condition can and often does occur independently of any actual body tissue damage (due to injury or illness), and beyond normal tissue healing time.
It is estimated that 116 million Americans have chronic pain each year. The cost in the United States is $560–$635 billion annually for medical treatment, lost work time, and lost wages.
The causes of chronic pain vary widely. While any condition can lead to chronic pain, there are certain medical conditions more likely to cause chronic pain. These include:
Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy.
Some diseases, such as cancer and arthritis, cause ongoing pain. With chronic pain, however, pain is created in the nervous system even after physical tissues have healed.Chronic pain affects each person experiencing it differently. In some cases, chronic pain can lead to decreased activity levels, job loss, or financial difficulties, as well as anxiety, depression, and disability. Physical therapists work together with chronic pain patients to lessen their pain and restore their activity to the highest possible levels. With treatment, the adverse effects of chronic pain can be reduced.
Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common causes of heel pain. Ten percent of Americans will experience plantar fasciitis at some point during their lifetime. Plantar fasciitis affects people of all ages, both athletes and nonathletes. Men and women have an equal chance of developing the condition.
The plantar fascia is a thick band of tissue connecting the heel to the ball of the foot that can become inflamed or tear for a variety of reasons.
Sharp pain in the bottom of the foot, near the heel
Pain that worsens with the first few steps in the morning or after prolonged inactivity
Pain after standing for prolonged periods of time
Pain from walking barefoot or in shoes with poor support
Reearch shows most cases of plantar fasciitis improve over time with these conservative treatments. Surgery is rarely required.
Shoulder (Labral tear)
An unstable shoulder joint can be the cause or the result of a labral tear. "Labral" refers to the ring of cartilage (glenoid labrum) that surrounds the base of the shoulder joint. Injuries to the labrum are common, can cause a great deal of pain, and may make it hard to move your arm. A labral tear can occur from a fall or from repetitive work activities or sports that require you to use your arms raised above your head. Some labral tears can be managed with physical therapy; in severe cases, surgery may be required to repair the torn labrum.
Physical therapists are movement experts. They improve quality of life through hands-on care, patient education, and prescribed movement. You can contact a physical therapist directly for an evaluation.