What is Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy is a healthcare specialty that includes the evaluation, assessment, and treatment of individuals with limitations in functional mobility. Simply put, physical therapy aims to increase well-being by decreasing physical dysfunction.

What can Physical Therapy treat?

Physical therapists and physical therapist assistants can help with some of the following conditions:

  • Work-related incidents
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Sports injuries
  • Post-surgical recovery
  • Pain
  • Postural imbalance
  • Back issues
  • Arthritis
  • Repetitive stress injuries
  • Pelvic floor dysfunction

Physical therapy can also help prevent injury and dysfunction before they occur. This specialty can be found in a variety of settings including but not limited to hospitals, nursing homes, schools, gyms, outpatient clinics, and even in the home.

Your clinicians

Physical therapists (or PT’s) are professionals licensed by the state in which they work. Physical therapists who are already practicing and only have a master’s degree can still practice, but all new students of the profession are now required to get a doctorate degree. Your PT will provide your initial evaluation, create and adjust your plan of care, and eventually discharge you when goals are met.

Physical therapist assistants (PTA’s) graduate from an accredited PTA program, typically obtaining an Associate’s degree. They work closely with PT’s and provide physical therapy services outlined in your treatment plan including exercises, stretching, and other modalities like ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and heat. Your PTA documents each session and regularly meets with your PT to share information and update them on your progress.


What is a PT appointment like?

Initial evaluation

The first visit will be an evaluation of your impairment or injury. Some clinics may offer an initial consultation prior to evaluation to determine if you can benefit from treatment. Physical therapy evaluations involve tests and measurements in order to obtain information about your condition. Typical subjects measured include some of the following:

  • Strength
  • Range of motion
  • Flexibility
  • Balance
  • Joint mobility
  • Neurological function (testing nerves and reflexes)
  • Pain
  • Cardiac function
  • Pulmonary function
  • Overall functional mobility

Many different techniques may be used to help alleviate symptoms and improve function.

Therapeutic Exercise

Therapeutic exercises make up the bulk of most session. Exercises your physical therapist prescribes are specific to your diagnosis and designed to help decrease weakness, pain, and dysfunction and increase stability, strength, and range of motion. Activities are often customized into a Home Exercise Program (HEP), printed, and given to patients to perform regularly at home. The goal of HEP is to maximize healing and help support the work done at the clinic on the days patients do not have appointments. Consistently practicing your HEP can help you progress more quickly, meet the goals outlined in your Physical Therapy treatment plan, and get you back to pre-injury status.

Manual therapy

Physical therapists utilize a hands-on approach to treating the body. Skills include targeted stretching, joint mobilizations, massage/soft tissue mobilization, trigger point release work, and muscle re-education. All these modalities aid in allowing the body to move properly and without pain.


Exercise empowers you to be in control of your symptoms. After a thorough examination, your therapist will build you a custom program of exercises in order to target specific strength and mobility imbalances you may have.

Neuromuscular Re-Education

Normal movement patterns can be disrupted by injury. The goal of neuromuscular re-education activities is to re-train a body part to perform a movement or task that it was previously unable to do. The majority of active physical therapy treatments that occur in the early phases of healing are re-educating the nervous system to properly control the musculoskeletal system.

Neuromuscular re-education consists of:

  • Hands-on manual techniques to re-train muscles
  • Balance and core control activities 
  • Strengthening activities to stabilize and re-align soft tissue


Therapeutic ultrasound uses sound waves to gently heat soft tissues like muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The goal of ultrasound is to aid in tissue healing, improve tissue elasticity, and promote blood flow.

Electrical stimulation

Electrical stimulation (or e-stim, as we call it) may be used during a physical therapy session. Small, adhesive electrode pads are placed on the skin, wires are attached to the pads and connect to a machine that controls the settings. Different selections can target pain reduction and/or increase muscle recruitment and function. The sensations may feel like tingling or buzzing, much like pins and needles.


Rigid tape and Kinesiology tape help facilitate the body’s natural healing process while providing support and stability to muscles and joints without restricting the body’s range of motion. This technique may also prolong the benefits of manual therapy administered within the clinical setting.

Physical Therapy Rock Tape application in Vancouver WA

Heat and Cold

After examining your condition, a physical therapist may apply hydrotherapy to render immediate pain relief and accelerate the healing response. Typically, colder temperatures help alleviate inflammation and heat soothes chronic pain. The physical therapist may also make a recommendation for a self-care routine at home using a heating pad, cold packs, or ice.

Does PT Hurt?

Many patients may fear that rehabilitation will be difficult or painful. Working through restrictions or weakness may involve some discomfort, but being honest with yourself as well as your clinician about what you’re feeling physically is an important part of a successful treatment. If sensations are tolerable, a regular pattern of breathing is maintained, and there is proper form during the activity then it is likely okay. Progress takes work, but is your well-being is well worth it!

How long will recovery take?

Recovery depends on many different factors, but the earlier we can treat, the better. The extent of your injury, age, and daily habits play a role but the most important part of effective physical therapy is attending all scheduled appointments and regularly performing the homework you are prescribed. Each patient is regularly re-evaluated to determine their progress so treatments can be updated to maximize and support their ongoing progress. Compliance and consistency are the main ingredients of successful and measurable therapy.


Is PT right for me?

Our clinic offers free physical therapy consultations. The staff PT will meet with your, discuss your concerns, and if needed a full evaluation will then be scheduled. Please contact our front desk to arrange your consultation.

What to expect from physical therapy:

Our physical therapist will educate you on your condition and their road map in treating your symptoms. Therapeutic exercise, stretching, and soft tissue work play an important part in helping to return you to your pre-injury status. Physical therapy requires your participation in your own healing process and our staff hopes to empower you to do so. 

Your part:

Exercises at the clinic and those done at home are specifically prescribed to treat your symptoms. Attending your scheduled appointments and compliance with your Home Exercise Program (HEP) will aid in your swift recovery and help maximize your results. Open communication with staff members about how you feel you are progressing allows modifications to be made to best serve your needs.

Chiropractic may help.

Our staff chiropractors are here to support your healing journey. Using evidence based treatment, they offer joint mobilizations and spinal adjustments in order to help restore physical function and decrease pain. Stretches and light exercise may be prescribed to support their work and your  progress.

Massage Therapy may help.

For relief of pain, muscle tension, stiff joints, or even to soothe and relax, Dr. Ibolit features the services of many excellent massage therapists. Proven to increase mobility, improve circulation, and decrease discomfort, therapeutic massage can play a vital role in returning you to function and enhance your feeling of overall well-being.