Do you know that one of the leading causes of disability as we age is musculoskeletal pain, injury, or dysfunction? In fact, 1 in 4 visits to primary care physicians is for a musculoskeletal complaint. Musculoskeletal injury or pain is defined by a problem in one or more of the following areas: muscle, ligament, tendon, bone, joint, disc or other soft tissue. This includes things like back or neck pain, headaches, arthritis pain in the knee, disc injury to the back or neck, a shoulder sprain, elbow pain, rotator cuff tears and etc. In simple terms, if the moving parts of your body hurt or don’t move right, then your musculoskeletal system needs some work! Your task is to choose the right person for the job!
There are many musculoskeletal treatment options available. From the very conservative options (do nothing and see if it gets better on its own) to the very aggressive options (surgical repair). There are many options in between and physical therapy is one of them. Musculoskeletal evaluation and treatment is at the core of what a good physical therapist can do for you. Advanced training in good assessment and care planning skills allows physical therapists to safely and effectively treat most musculoskeletal problems with low cost and low risk. In addition, physical therapy research over the last two decades has exploded with thousands of excellent studies showing the efficacy of physical therapy for musculoskeletal problems including one of the most prevalent, musculoskeletal lower back pain. This is good news.
Knowing that physical therapy is a great treatment option for musculoskeletal is part of the story. There is a part two. Just like our hair gets grey, and our faces wrinkle, the musculoskeletal system ages too. Once we are in our seventh decade of life, most of us will have some degree of arthritis. This is part of normal aging. Some of our joints begin aging as early as our twenties. Here is the good news. There is so much you can do to prevent musculoskeletal pain and disability through a good physical therapy program. Most of my current patients have known me for years, their first musculoskeletal problem was years ago and they have returned to me periodically for musculoskeletal treatment of new problems or for progression of a preventative home exercise program. This model works so well for my patients because they usually share one common goal. “I want to be active for the rest of my life. I want my body to work well and feel well in the process.” Musculoskeletal pain and injury is highly preventable. Physical therapists understand how to prevent it.
Once you establish a good relationship with a physical therapist consider keeping your PT for life! Consider what your goals are for your body as you age. What do you want to be able to do and how do you want to feel? How invested are you in these goals? Your physical therapist can develop a customized, prescriptive, progressive physical therapy program to see you through the changes in your musculoskeletal system as you age. Partner with your physical therapist and develop both short and long term goals for your body. Consider seeing your physical therapist quarterly or annually for musculoskeletal evaluation and progression of your home program. As a team, you can watch as your body ages gracefully with lots of activity and very few limitations from your musculoskeletal system!
By Sandra Stryker, PT, MPT, COMT, FAAOMPT