Physical therapy has a long history in the United States.
PT dates back to the early 20th century, when clinicians, referred to as reconstructive aids, focused primarily on the treatment of patients with a condition known as poliomyelitis, which caused temporary or permanent paralysis. Over the subsequent decades the field continued to evolve and in 1967, amendments were added to the Social Security Act added, including definitions of an outpatient physical therapy.
Rapid medical advances have facilitated growth in the physical therapy treatment areas, necessitating the need for therapy specialization. Adhering to an evidence-based practice, physical therapists rely on clinical research and best clinical practice standards of care in the evaluation and treatment of musculoskeletal impairments.
Furthermore, as the advancements in physical therapy treatments have continued, so have the educational requirements. Since the mid ‘90s, all physical therapy graduates earn the degree of doctor in physical therapy, which recognizes the rigorous academic curriculum requirements and an attainment of high level of clinical proficiency and expertise required to practicing in this challenging field.
Doctors of physical therapy are licensed providers who assist individuals with medical conditions and injuries to regain their prior level of function. By employing a conservative and non-invasive plan of care, they respond to specific health problems such as neurological or orthopedic impairments. Physical therapists promote wellness and holistic methodologies to address injury prevention and an attainment of an overall well-being.
Several significant benefits that derive from physical therapy care include reduction or elimination of pain, improved functional mobility, recovery from stroke and athletic injuries, improved balance and improved management of diabetes and cardiopulmonary functions.
Of those impairments treated by physical therapists, pain may be one of the most debilitating health conditions. Whether acute or chronic, it may afflict multiple parts of the body and prevent people from performing even the most routine activities of daily living, such as sleeping, walking, tying shoes or personal hygiene. While there are multiple remedies available to treat pain, physical therapy offers the most conservative, non-addictive treatment option.
Advances in rehabilitation treatments, including pain, have led to the development of specific techniques and narrow clinical specializations. One method that has gained prominence in the treatment of pain has been therapeutic dry needling. Although more prevalent in the U.S. in the past 30 years, it has long been used in Europe.
Similar to acupuncture in that it uses the insertion of filiform needles, dry needling is very different in that it effectively treats musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction by inserting needles along tight bands of tissue (trigger points). On the other hand, acupuncture focuses on balancing the flow of energy by inserting needles into the “energic pathways,” as defined by traditional Chinese medicine.
The primary goal of dry needling is to desensitize affected structures, return function and possibly reverse a failed healing process. Therapeutic dry needling can effectively address the loosening of tight muscles, decrease joint pain and increase blood circulation to the affected body parts. As with other medical treatments, dry needling may not be the answer to treating every musculoskeletal impairment — however, the efficacy (or lack thereof) of the treatment can be determined after only a few therapy visits.
Musculoskeletal impairments affect more than one out of two adults in the United States and almost 75 percent of those 65 years old or older. Trauma, back pain and arthritis are the three most frequently reported musculoskeletal conditions for which individuals seek alternative therapy treatments, including dry needling.
Tomasz Jankowski, DPT, MHA, MBA; Director of Neuroscience Institute, Mercy Health - Health St. Rita’s Medical Center