By Danielle Spano

When you think of a visit to the physical therapist, it typically goes hand in hand with being in pain. Contrary to popular belief, physical therapy is not just for recovering from an injury — it can actually be used for preventing injury. According to the “Guide to Physical Therapist Practice,” part of a physical therapists’ role is to provide prevention services and promote health, wellness and fitness. A therapist can conduct screenings to determine what type of prevention may be needed. Prevention can range from identifying factors that may increase the risk of health problems and postural and spine issues to identifying patients who may have a risk of falling or being injured in the workplace. Physical therapists can also perform pre-performance testing for athletic individuals to ensure they are in a good state to compete.

Do you work a desk job? Through assessment, physical therapists can determine if you need to reconfigure your workplace or desk setup to minimize neck and back injuries and even avoid carpal tunnel syndrome. They can also go to a workplace to instruct staff how to properly bend and lift, which not only helps to reduce workplace injuries, but also improves overall fitness levels of the staff, leading to reduced costs for health and injury compensation. A physical therapist can also create exercise programs and gait (walking) training for elderly patients to increase bone mass and density and improve balance to reduce the risk of falls and fractures. For active individuals, physical therapists can teach proper strengthening, stretching and endurance exercise programs to achieve optimal functionality.

The American Physical Therapy Association said that working with a physical therapist can benefit people with active lifestyles by preventing mobility loss before it even occurs. An initial evaluation will help the physical therapist determine if your current flexibility and strength are sufficient for your desired fitness and activity level. Incorrect posture, form and training errors that can be harmful to the body and cause overuse or injury to areas of the body can also be identified. For runners, physical therapists can not only treat running-related injuries, but they can assist them in proper shoe selection, training methods, and even running form to prevent injury in the first place.

For preventative care, there is no specific number of visits to the physical therapist required. The initial assessment is crucial for the doctor to evaluate your current state and determine your risk for injury. “A physical therapist can evaluate you in one visit, discuss their findings of potentially problematic areas or weaknesses you may (or may not) have and offer solutions to reduce your risk of injury or treat you if needed,” Dr. Scott Eddins of Kinetix Physical Therapy said. Occasional visits may be beneficial to track your progress so the physical therapist can reexamine you, ensure you are following your uniquely tailored program correctly, determine if the program is having expected outcomes, and revise the plan as necessary. Even the most seasoned athlete can benefit from physical therapy.