When Central Oregon physical therapist Barrett Ford had just completed PT school, he worked for a time at a 10-story trauma center in Austin, TX – a facility where each floor focused on a particular discipline. And he worked on every level in the building.

“I did acute neuro , acute orthopedic, cardiac rehab [and] renal failure,” he said. “I treated pediatrics, worked with patients in the ICU section, and even did wound care. I got exposure to so many different aspects of physical therapy care. And having just gotten out of school, it opened my eyes to the fact that physical therapy is a discipline that successfully treats so many different types of ailments.”

Such is the message that Ford would like to drive home during the month of October, which is National Physical Therapy Month. With so many common, everyday ailments rooted in the musculoskeletal system, Ford says, physical therapists play a critical role in the care, treatment and prevention of disorders, ailments and diseases.

“Sometimes, we as physical therapists have so much we can treat that people see us as generalists rather than a specialist,” Ford said. “But, just an awareness that a physical therapist can treat so many things can provide such an important health care option to people – an option that’s safe and affordable, helping people avoid more aggressive treatments like surgery.”

According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), physical therapists are highly educated, licensed health care professionals who exist to help patients reduce pain and improve or restore mobility – in many cases without the need for expensive surgery and often reducing the need for long-term use of prescription drugs.

“The physical therapist being the first line of action for your musculoskeletal issues is quite important,” Ford said.

In fact, he said, physical therapists are specially trained and licensed to improve people’s lives by treating ailments most may not have previously suspected. These include:

Headaches: Following a thorough evaluation, a physical therapist (PT) can treat chronic tension-type headaches, the most common primary headache disorder, according to the World Health Organization. A PT can identify the cause of such headaches (e.g., muscle tension, joint dysfunction in the neck/jaw, poor posture or stress) and work to improve mobility, strength, posture, and daily work/office routines.

The Feet: Often, says Ford, pain and musculoskeletal issues up the kinetic chain – from the ankle, knees and hips all the way through the spine – can be traced to a somewhat unlikely cause: the feet. By treating causes of pain and injury rather than just the symptoms, physical therapists will identify when problems are rooted in the feet, then provide solutions. PTs can also treat common foot ailments such as plantar fasciitis.

Balance, Dizziness & Vertigo: Physical therapists can assess a person’s balance and risk of fall, then provide treatment (e.g., strength training, flexibility or range of motion exercises, for instance) to help improve balance. Many physical therapists are also specially trained to treat positional vertigo, which can often be successfully treated in a single visit.

Neurological Disorders: Whether the result of a stroke, concussion, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, etc., physical therapists can evaluate and treat people with movement problems due to such illnesses or injuries. A PT will work with the patient to help restore movement and mobility, improving general functionality in their lives.

In addition, Ford notes that a physician’s referral is not required in order to directly access physical therapy services – unless, of course, such referral is required in order to bill insurance. Contact the PT staff at Step & Spine Physical Therapy to learn more.