Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Modalities of Physical Therapy

Rehab Room
Physical therapy is the treatment of neurological, musculoskeletal, circulatory, and skin disorders using various physical therapy modalities. The goal of physical therapy intervention is for patients to regain maximum potential and to have a productive life with or without the presence of disability.

Physical therapists may use a number of different modalities for your problem(s) or condition for a variety of reasons, including:
  • Reduction of pain
  • Increasing range of motion
  • Decreasing swelling
  • Increasing the rate of healing
  • Stabilizing areas needing support

“Four basic modalities are employed in physical therapy, each applied where and when it will do the most good. Not all of the modalities are used in every case.


Cold therapy

Cold therapy or cryotherapy is an effective means of reducing inflammation following an accident or injury. Cold therapy is applied in the form of ice packs, sometimes combined with massage, cold water bath of the injured area, and other methods. The reduced temperature will quell the firing of the nerve-muscle units and reduce muscle spasms, and that along with the anesthetic effect of the cold temperature will ease pain. Also, the cold reduces blood flow into the injury and reduces any bleeding that may be present and reduces oxygen demands of the injured tissue, thus preserving the muscle cells. An ice pack often is applied with a compression wrap to reduce swelling, and with elevation of the injured extremity above heart level for maximal reduction in swelling.


Heat therapy

Heat or thermotherapy may be employed only after the active swelling of the injury has abated, 24-48 hours following the injury. Heat is conveyed into the injured area by the use of moist heat packs, hot paraffin, hot air or hot water as in a whirlpool bath, by infrared lamp, and by conversion. Conversion is the development of heat brought about by the passage of sound waves or electric current through tissue. Diathermy is an example of electrical waves directed into tissue and converted into heat. Ultrasound, very high-frequency sound waves, bring about the vibration of the tissues, which increases the temperature within them. A form of application of sound waves called phonophoresis consists of application of a medication to the injured area followed by ultrasound to drive the medication deep into the tissues.
Heat increases blood flow to an area, so should not be used when internal bleeding accompanies an injury. However, like cryotherapy, heat reduces muscle spasms by increasing the blood flow to an area, which helps to wash out metabolic waste products and increase the amount of oxygen reaching the tissues.


Electrical stimulation

Application of electrical stimulation can restore muscle tone by stimulating muscles to contract rhythmically. This method is used often when an injured person has been confined to bed for a long period of time. Over time, muscles will atrophy and the patient will require long, arduous periods of exercise once he is mobile. The use of electrical stimulation can prevent muscle atrophy and reduce the necessary physical therapy regimen required later. Electricity is also used to drive molecules of medication through the skin into the tissues. This is called iontophoresis. A special machine called a TENS machine (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) beams electric current through the skin (transcutaneously) into the injured area specifically to stop pain. Why TENS has this ability to assuage pain remains open to question, but it is thought that it prevents pain perception by the sensory nerves in the injured area. That is, the nerves that normally would detect pain and carry the impulse to the spinal cord do not sense pain. The electrical signal from the TENS machine can be adjusted for frequency and strength to achieve its effect without patient discomfort. All electrical stimulation is delivered by placing pads on or around the injured area to conduct the electrical current.


Mechanical manipulation

The use of massage, manipulation of the injured limb, traction, and weight lifting are part of the mechanical form of physical therapy. Massage is the rubbing, tapping, or kneading of an injured area to increase blood circulation and relieve pain. Manipulation consists of putting an injured joint through its movements from one extreme to the other. This is designed to restore full range of motion to the joint and eliminate pain from movement. Traction is the application of weight to stretch muscles or to help increase the space between vertebrae and relieve nerve compression. Manipulation may be carried out by a trained technician or by using a machine especially constructed to exercise the injured joint. Resistance can be altered in the machine to make joint extension or flexing more difficult, thus helping to build the muscles that control the joint movement.

Many forms of physical therapy can be carried out at home, but the exercises must first be carefully explained by a trained therapist. Incorrect application of a physical therapy modality can be as harmful as any traumatic injury. Most modalities are applied two or three times daily over a period of time to help restore movement, flexibility, or strength to an injured area.

Through the use of tests, evaluations, exercises, treatments with modalities, screening programs, as well as educational information, physical therapists:
  • increase, restore or maintain range of motion, physical strength, flexibility, coordination, balance and endurance
  • recommend adaptations to make the home accessible and safe
  • teach positioning, transfers, and walking skills to promote maximum function and independence within an individual's capability
  • increase overall fitness through exercise programs
  • prevent further decline in functional abilities through education, energy conservation techniques, joint protection, and use of assistive devices to promote independence
  • improve sensation, joint proprioception and reduce pain


Common Conditions

A vast number of conditions are treated effectively with physical therapy intervention. Examples of specific diseases and conditions that may be improved with physical therapy include:
  • arthritis
  • sports/orthopedic injuries
  • joint replacements
  • cerebral vascular accident (stroke)
  • coordination and balance disorders
  • Alzheimer disease

To ensure the best treatment outcome for the patient, the physiatrist and the physical therapist must ensure that the correct physical therapy modalities are prescribed.

Many researches supported that treatment outcome differ from patient to patient depending upon the severity and extent of the disability, methods used, and also the level of cooperation of the patient to rehabilitation.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. SO that is good news that many other therapies are adding in physical therapy. These different therapies like heat and cold therapy are works totally differently. All has different benefits.
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  3. Physical therapy is extremely helpful in overcoming pain and restores physical functions. Consulting a physical therapy center in New Jersey is advisable.

  4. a lot of people who lack development physiotherapy understanding believe that physiotherapy is a masseur sad..

  5. I appreciate all of the information that you have shared. Thank you for the hard work!
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  6. Physical therapy is the best solution of any type of body injuries. We must keep doing some therapy exercises in our daily routine for living our life energetically.
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  7. My brother is going into physical therapy and is going to school right now. I'm glad I read your blog, there is so much that physical therapist do to help people. I'm excited to talk with my brother about what I've learned and I hope his schooling goes well!

    Amber |

  8. I didn't realize that there were so many different modalities involved in physical therapy. I usually think of traditional chiropractic care when I think of physical therapy. I understand the use of heat therapy, because heat helps the muscles to stretch out, but I've never heard of cold therapy.

  9. I was in a car accident a little while back, and I was having a hard time recovering afterwards. I have started looking at different options, and I think that physical therapy would be a great way to go. This article is so informative, and it had lots to say about all the different ways to help. I really like the idea of heat therapy, it sounds very relaxing.

  10. I had no idea that there were so many different kinds of therapy options. My sister was in a car accident a few weeks ago and has been in physical therapy since then. I am not sure what she does there, but she did injure her knee which has prevented her from walking normally. Hopefully she will be able to get her leg back to normal so that she can go back to work.

  11. I am thinking about going to get some physical therapy done. I hurt my ankle a couple of months ago and it has not gotten better. So I am researching to see the different types of treatments that they offer. This article was a lot of help and it had all the treatments on there which is what I needed.

  12. I love that physical therapy can be used to help people in so many different ways. It's amazing how it can do everything from reducing pain to increasing the rate of healing. It kind of makes me wonder how many injuries and disabilities wouldn't be possible to treat or overcome without therapy.

  13. I didn't realize there were so many different types of therapy used to help treat injuries. It makes sense that a combination of all of those is employed since they all seem to be used at different stages of the treatment. I was injured in a basketball game a couple of days ago. I wasn't planning on going to a physical therapist, but after reading this, it sounds like the way to go.

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