What is Orthopedic Physical Therapy?

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  • Written By: Patti Kate
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 15 October 2019
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Orthopedic therapy involves physical rehabilitation for patients suffering from an acute injury or chronic condition affecting joints, tendons, and ligaments of the musculoskeletal system. This may include focus on areas of the back or spine, as well as the neck. The feet and ankles are also common areas on which orthopedic physical therapy may focus.

When an individual receives orthopedic physical therapy, it is typically performed by a licensed professional physical therapist. In most cases, the patient will have obtained a prescription from his doctor. Many injuries that necessitate orthopedic physical therapy are job related. Repetitive motion injuries are one such issue. Back injuries from improper lifting techniques may be another cause.

With worker's compensation injuries, orthopedic physical therapy sessions may include strengthening the injured or torn tendons, or strengthening the ligaments of a specific muscle group. Stretching exercises are a typical part of these programs. There may be various other methods involved in an orthopedic physical therapy program. The therapist may work with the patient by demonstrating exercise techniques to improve strength and endurance. These may include resistance training and isometrics.

Massage therapy is often another option for chronic pain patients. Orthopedic rehabilitation may include deep-tissue massage. Many patients with back injuries or ongoing issues involving the neck and spine find massage therapy beneficial. Patients involved in automobile accidents often undergo this type of physical therapy.


Patients with conditions such as shoulder tendinitis often receive deep tissue massage as part of an orthopedic therapy program. This type of therapy is said to improve blood flow and circulation to injured areas. In some cases, this may also improve mobility and flexibility.

In addition to massage therapy and exercise programs, other forms of orthopedic physical therapy may include electrical stimulation and heat. Moist heat may be used. Heat packs or heating pads also can be used by the patient at home. Some types of heat therapy include ultrasound. Ultrasound penetrates deeper into the layers of tissue than heat alone.

Alternately, ice therapy may help some patients during an orthopedic physical therapy session. Some techniques involve ice massage by the therapist. Applying ice packs to the wrist, elbow, shoulder, or knee are common methods of therapy known to help patients with chronic or acute inflammation of the joints.

Orthopedic physical therapy also involves the rehabilitation of patients suffering from sports injuries. Musculoskeletal trauma to the back, neck, shoulders, and knees are sports-related injuries requiring extensive physical therapy. In many cases, special equipment such as treadmills, exercise bicycles, and upper body ergometers may be used in these programs.


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