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I Hurt Myself. Do I Need Physical Therapy?

Pain, sprain or strain, physical therapists can help you recover from a variety of common injuries.

When you’re hurting, you might think rest and avoiding certain activities is the best medicine. A lot of times it is. At some point, you have to get up, get moving and get over your injury. And you may find that you can’t do that like you once could.

Your aches, pain and swelling return. They may even be worse than before. You start to worry that it’s not simply an aggravated injury and that you’ve done some serious damage.


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Injuries happen. Physical therapy can help heal them.

Physical therapists are rehab specialists. They help you recover your strength, movement and function after injury. Specifically, they help heal musculoskeletal issues — problems with your muscles and joints.

Some of these injuries improve with time. Others linger and make things worse. In both cases, physical therapy can help. But many people don’t call a PT until they’re in serious pain or have suffered further injury. If you suffer one of these common injuries, physical therapy can be just the thing to get you moving again.

1. You strained a muscle and are feeling the pain.

Hamstring, chest, neck, calf or groin, you can pull a muscle anywhere in your body. And it can put you in a lot of pain. Lower back pain is one of the most common reasons adults seek physical therapy. A muscle strain is often the reason for it. 


A strain is a tear or stretching of the muscle. Your normal movements — the twists, turns and bends you do every day — can cause a muscle strain if you move the wrong way. It could be from falling, sudden abnormal movement, overexertion or overuse. If it’s bad enough, you may hear a pop.

Pulled muscles can cause pain, swelling, weakness, cramps, difficulty moving or spasms. Physical therapy can help ease those issues as well as strengthen the damaged muscle and the others that surround it to prevent another injury.

2. You’re experiencing tendonitis.

Tendons connect your muscles to your bones. You can strain tendons just as you can muscles. But tendonitis is more common. That’s when your tendons are irritated and inflamed from repetitive tasks and overuse.

Once you turn 40, your tendons are less elastic and tear more easily, which makes you more likely to suffer from tendonitis. It can hit you anywhere, but it mostly affects the elbows, thumbs, shoulders, hips, knees and Achilles tendons. Tennis elbow is a common injury — even if you’ve never swung a racket — that’s actually a form of tendonitis.

Tendonitis causes aches and pains and inhibits motion. It can be a nagging injury that crops up during every activity. Exercises under the guidance of a physical therapist improves your range of motion and strengthens your tendons and the surrounding muscles. Your PT may design a progressive exercise program that increases your activity gradually to reduce the irritation so you can enjoy your activities pain-free. 

3. You sprained or twisted an ankle, knee or wrist.

The most common injury in the United States is a sprained ankle. But you can sprain other joints, like a wrist catching yourself after a fall or a knee from landing awkwardly after a jump.

A sprain is like a strain. Instead of a tear or stretched muscle, it’s in the ligaments that connect your bones together at the joints. Your joint swells up. It hurts to move it. You may not be able to move it all.

Sprains are often treated at home with rest, ice, compression and elevation along with acetaminophen for the pain. But once the pain and swelling subside, stretches and exercises are important. The time off reduces your range of motion and causes tightness. It’s likely that your damaged joint is also weaker post-injury. Physical therapy restores your strength and mobility, helping to stabilize your ankle, knee or wrist to prevent future sprains.

4. You’re suffering from shin splints.

You may think of shin splints as a running injury. But it’s really an overuse injury that can affect anyone. Shin splints is simply shin pain. If you ramp up a running program or other type of exercise routine too quickly, you’re likely overworking the tissues that connect to your shin bones.

Rest and ice can provide temporary relief, but the shin pain will likely return once you pick your activity up again. Eventually, the strain on your shins can result in a stress reaction or stress fracture.

Shin splints can be caused by a variety of issues. It might be the way you naturally move or how you workout. A physical therapist can help you pinpoint the problem that’s causing your shin pain and build an exercise program that resolves it.

You don’t need to be injured to see a physical therapist.

Physical therapy can treat a long list of conditions, not just injuries. Anytime you’re feeling pain, your movement is limited or your function is flawed, your body is telling you something. Your PT can figure out the underlying issue and help you get back to normal or improve upon your previous capabilities.

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