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Physical Therapy to Improve Range of Motion and Functionality

Physical therapy is a medical treatment that helps you improve your function, range of motion, and overall quality of life. Physical therapy can help accelerate healing from an injury, reduce pain, and prevent injury. It also may help you decrease medication doses or stop taking pain medicines altogether. For some, physical therapy can significantly delay the need for surgery or help avoid it altogether.

What Does a Physical Therapist Do?

A physical therapist is a health care provider who helps you enhance your strength, mobility, and function. You may see a physical therapist to help treat chronic pain, rehabilitate an injury, or prevent future injuries.

Physical therapists are not the same thing as personal trainers. Physical therapists have doctorate degrees and typically work in healthcare settings as part of your treatment plan for a medical condition. Personal trainers usually have to pass a personal training exam, but graduate-level training is not required. A personal trainer may help you improve your strength or flexibility, but they don’t typically work in healthcare settings or as part of your medical treatment plan.

A physical therapist creates personalized treatment plans, typically involving a set of prescribed exercises. They also may use techniques such as electrical stimulation, joint manipulation (gentle, hands-on joint adjustments), or massage to reduce pain and promote healing.

Benefits of Physical Therapy

The most significant benefit of physical therapy is that it can help you maintain your quality of life for as long as possible. Physical therapy is important for the following reasons:

  • Helps you avoid surgery
  • Lowers your pain medication dose or allows you to stop taking it altogether
  • Maintains your independence for as long as possible
  • Helps you participate in the activities you enjoy
  • Prevents injuries
  • Helps retain your mobility and strength

Does Physical Therapy Hurt?

You might feel uncomfortable during physical therapy or sore afterward, as though you’ve had a tough workout. But it doesn’t hurt. In fact, physical therapy can help decrease pain.

Why Choose University of Utah Health?

Physical therapists at U of U Health have years of expertise in evidence-based therapeutic techniques. We offer world-class care to help you return to a healthy, productive lifestyle, whether you’re recovering from an injury or seeking relief from chronic aches and pains.

Not only do we help you recover well, but we will teach you strategies to prevent future injuries. Our physical therapists specialize in a range of therapies so you have access to comprehensive, state-of-the-art treatments.

Inpatient vs. Outpatient Physical Therapy

Our physical therapists work with patients in the hospital (inpatient) or during office visits (outpatient).

The overall goals of outpatient and inpatient physical therapy are the same — to increase your function and mobility to help you heal and live a higher quality of life. If you are recovering in the hospital from an injury or illness, we will help you return home as efficiently and safely as possible. During outpatient physical therapy, your provider will create a more extensive treatment plan that you complete over several weeks or months.

What Is the Difference Between Occupational Therapy & Physical Therapy?

Occupational and physical therapists are health care professionals who help you increase or restore function.

Physical therapists tend to focus on helping you improve your overall physical mobility and  strength. Occupational therapists will help restore your ability to complete specific tasks of daily living, such as brushing your teeth, and putting your shoes on.

Physical therapy and occupational therapy often complement each other, and you may work with both specialists throughout a therapy treatment plan. These specialists also will work together during home visits to assess your safety and functional needs in your living space.

What to Expect During Your Physical Therapy Session

We will use evidence-based treatments to personalize your physical therapy session to your unique needs. Your therapist will consider research, your needs, and your overall goals to create the most effective treatment plan for you.

Outpatient physical therapy sessions may include the following activities:

  • Exercises that you complete with the therapist in the office
  • Home exercises to practice in between appointments
  • Joint mobilization to decrease stiffness or pain
  • Massage therapy to increase blood flow and loosen stiff muscles
  • Ultrasound to increase blood flow to your tissues and boost healing

What to Wear to Physical Therapy

Dress for physical therapy in the clothes you’d wear while exercising. We recommend athletic attire and comfortable, well-fitting athletic shoes.

How Long Is a Physical Therapy Session?

Physical therapy sessions generally range from 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the type of therapy. Outpatient orthopedic physical therapy visits are all 45 minutes. Being on time for your physical therapy appointment is important, or you may have a shortened visit.

When to Stop Physical Therapy

You and your therapist will decide together when it’s time to stop physical therapy. Usually, you’re ready for discharge from physical therapy when you’ve met all your treatment goals.

After you stop physical therapy, our goal is that you will continue to maintain your results at home on your own. Your physical therapist will advise you on the type of exercises to maintain your function long-term.

Types of Physical Therapy and Programs

Physical therapy is a wide-ranging field with many specialty areas.

Sport-Specific Therapy

A therapist may specialize in helping you increase your functionality during the repetitive movements of specific sports. At U of U Health, we have several sport clinics that our physical therapists specialize in:

Therapy for Tactical Athletes

We run a physical therapy program specifically designed to prevent injury in people with high-risk jobs, such as law enforcement or firefighting. Our therapists create plans designed to help prevent injury and help these first responders get back to work quickly if they get injured.

Bridge Back to Sport

Our physical therapists in Bridge Back to Sport can help if you’ve sustained a sports-related injury and been out of the game for a while. This program will help you train so you can return to playing sports with a lower risk of injury.


SportsMetrics™ is a training program designed to prevent anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries in women. Many patients in this program play sports with a high risk of ACL tears, such as soccer. In this program, athletes perform specific exercises to prevent injuries and build athletic ability.

How Much Does Physical Therapy Cost?

The cost of physical therapy varies depending on your insurance coverage. We recommend checking with your insurance plan before you start physical therapy so you know what to expect in terms of cost.

Is Physical Therapy Covered by Insurance?

Insurance usually covers physical therapy. Coverage can vary depending on what facility you go to and how many visits you have.

Does Medicare Cover Physical Therapy?

Medicare covers physical therapy. However, Medicare stops coverage at a certain number of sessions, so it’s important to know ahead of time how many sessions you have. Our physical therapists have experience working with Medicare patients and can contact billing to ask about coverage on your behalf.

Do I Need a Referral for Physical Therapy?

We recommend getting a referral for physical therapy. You don’t need a referral for physical therapy, but your insurance plan may not cover it without a referral. Your physician may make a referral online or call 1-866-850-8863.

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