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Innovative PT Techniques You May Not Know About

Physical Therapy Techniques

By Alana Luna

While some PT techniques are known far and wide, other approaches are a little less familiar. Modern therapy programs combine traditional ideas with new research for the ultimate in patient care.

Are you caught up on innovated physical therapy techniques?

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5 physical therapy techniques to include in your toolbox

With physical therapy jobs on the rise, breadth of knowledge is more important than ever. Check out how these five innovative physical therapy techniques are improving client well-being from head to toe.

Active Release Technique (ART)

There are more than 500 specific treatment protocols that fall under the umbrella of Active Release Technique, a patented form of soft-tissue mobilization used to treat conditions linked to overused muscles.

As muscle tissue is strained, micro-tears, abrasions, bruising, hypoxia (lack of oxygen) and other issues begin to accumulate, resulting in stacked bands of scar tissue. That same scar tissue can trap nerves and limit muscle movement, causing loss of strength, limited range of motion and pain.

ART is a hands-on therapy that involves careful evaluation of the patient’s entire network of soft tissue, from the muscles down to the ligaments and nerves. Therapists identify problem areas and use pressure to break apart adhesions and release tension.

Studies indicate that active release therapy may be useful in reducing chronic neck pain, increasing flexibility, treating carpal tunnel syndrome and improving athletic performance.

Aquatic Therapy

Water-based PT techniques eschew typical PT equipment and devices, instead relying on water’s innate properties to provide patients with ample support and gentle resistance. Thanks to water’s natural viscosity, patients become more buoyant, allowing them to move without risk of falling or further stressing aching joints.

Aquatic therapy is ideal for patients of varying ages and can be used to treat everything from fibromyalgia to cardiovascular issues by addressing:

  • - Flexibility and gait
  • - Posture
  • - Core stabilization
  • - Muscle strength
  • - Endurance
  • - Balance and coordination
  • - Aerobic conditioning
  • - Agility

Though many gyms and community centers already offer water-based workouts, aquatic therapy is different in that it occurs under the watchful eye of a physical therapist. The presence of a qualified medical professional ensures conditions are properly managed for the best clinical outcomes.

Alice Gauthreaux, a medical billing expert specializing in PT and OT claims management, says that insurance companies will pay for aquatic therapy provided by a PT and deemed medically necessary. “It’s billed under CPT code 97113,” says Gauthreaux, “and Medicare will reimburse for it too under the right circumstances.”

The McKenzie Method

Lower back pain is a common complaint, but there is a clear lack of standardized treatment offered by traditional PT techniques, and that gap in protocol leaves patients in an extended state of frustration and discomfort.

Robin McKenzie, a New Zealand-based physiotherapist, designed his eponymous method to deliver a uniform approach to the assessment and treatment of lower back pain and sciatica.

Unlike many PT techniques that focus strictly on exercises, the McKenzie Method is interested in cause and effect. By observing the relationship between common movements such as sitting, standing and walking and the pain that results, therapists can develop an individualized treatment plan tailored to that patient’s unique needs.

Because of the lines it draws between active positioning and pain, the McKenzie Method is often referred to as Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy (MDT).

MDT practitioners have extensive training that allows them to evaluate the entire musculoskeletal system. Assessments are thorough and often feel repetitive, but once problematic movements are identified, they can be altered through postural education that reduces or even eliminates pain while also restoring function.

Cupping/Myofascial Decompression (MFD)

Cupping, more formally known as Myofascial Decompression (MFD), has been used to treat chronic illnesses and acute injuries for more than 2,000 years. While many PT techniques use compression to manipulate joints and soft tissue, cupping focuses on the power of negative pressure.

Practitioners place small glass or bamboo cups on a patient’s skin and then use either dry or wet suction to pull muscles upward and release adhesions. As blood flow increases, nutrients flood the treatment site and healing begins. There are several variations on basic MFD technique, including “sliding cupping,” in which the cups are paired with massage oil and slid across the skin, allowing for greater manipulation.

MFD can be used to treat a wide range of injuries, and many people believe it can also improve range of motion and overall health. Though still largely unknown in the western world, cupping is a common modality in Chinese hospitals, and it recently stepped into the global spotlight thanks to athletes like swimmer Michael Phelps and gymnast Alex Naddour, both of whom sported telltale cupping marks while competing at the 2016 Summer Olympics.

According to Gauthreaux, medically necessary cupping can be billed, though many PTs or doctors bill manual therapies as part of an overall code.

Graston Technique

Some PT techniques rely on instrumentation, while others depend strictly on manual manipulation. The Graston Technique combines the two approaches for a deeper, more precise way to address the underlying causes of muscle knots, tightness and pain.

Practitioners run handheld stainless steel tools over their patients’ skin, feeling for bumps and striations that could indicate scar tissue and other abnormalities. Those same tools are then skillfully maneuvered to help reduce fascia restrictions and break apart that scar tissue, unfurling bunched-up muscle structures and rearranging them for optimal comfort and function.

Graston is often used as a secondary treatment option by chiropractors and physical therapists, but it’s also sometimes utilized by osteopaths, occupational therapists, athletic trainers and massage therapists. In the right hands, Graston is a physical therapy technique that can:

  • - Speed up recovery time
  • - Reduce inflammation and dependency on over-the-counter pain medications
  • - Improve the look and feel of post-surgical scarring
  • - Minimize shin splints
  • - Help manage chronic conditions

Patients may experience relief in just a few sessions, but those with chronic conditions see more impressive results when undergoing one to two treatments per week for a longer period of time.

Modern PT techniques often take inspiration from time-tested methodologies to create innovative new modalities. By addressing the root of a patient’s problem instead of simply treating the symptoms, these physical therapy techniques may help deliver meaningful, lasting change rather than applying therapeutic Band-Aids to life-altering injuries.

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