Text size:

Sheltering Arms Blog

The Different Types of Physical Therapy Treatments

Physical Therapist and Patient

Posted on: October 14, 2019 by Kiryako Sharikas

By: Ryan Grace, Rehab Tech

Our main focus of this article is to cover the different types of physical therapy treatments and their definitions. You may find that some of these methods are also used throughout occupational therapy. Popular treatments and techniques commonly practiced today include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Aquatic therapy (Hydrotherapy)
  • Aerobic activities
  • Cardiopulmonary
  • Dry needling
  • Edema control (Dropsy)
  • Electrical stimulation (Electrotherapy)
  • Heat and cold therapy
  • Floor exercises
  • Manual therapy
  • Motion and/or gait training
  • Stabilization and/or balance training (Vestibular therapy)
  • Therapeutic ultrasound
  • Weight training
  • Work hardening

Physical Therapy Treatment Definitions

Find out more about how these physical therapy treatments are used in the field.
Acupuncture Therapy
Needles are used to prick the tissue or skin. This helps to relieve tension headaches or to help repetitive stress injuries along with shoulder pain or any muscle related pain. Acupuncture can also aid in autoimmune diseases and osteoarthritis.

Related article: “Is Dry Needling the Same as Acupuncture?”

Aquatic Therapy (Hydrotherapy)
Aquatic therapy is practiced in a body of water such as a pool, which is usually heated to help relax muscles. This therapy helps patients who have difficulty exercising on land due to weight-bearing pain that may prohibit the development of functional muscle. It also helps improve flexibility and reduce joint pain and swelling. Since swimming is non-weight-bearing, aquatic therapy can help with joint pain, arthritis, and joint replacements.
Aerobic Activities
Aerobic activities are frequently performed through therapy. Some aerobic exercises include walking, swimming, and cycling. These activities reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and type two diabetes, which can lead to further complications down the road. Exercise can also improve mobility; exercises given to the patient by the therapist have the sole purpose of helping the patient achieve normal function post injury. There are two types of exercises: passive and active exercise. Passive exercise is when a therapist applies the stress to the patient (such as a controlled stretch) while the patient tries to remain relaxed. Active exercises are controlled by the patient who will perform the exercise with his or her own strength.
Cardiopulmonary Therapy
Cardiopulmonary therapy is specialized to help the patient following any cardiovascular (heart) or pulmonary (lung) issues or diseases such as diabetes, acute and chronic respiratory ailments, cystic fibrosis, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This type of therapy can also help patients who have undergone heart valve replacements, bypass surgeries, or lung/heart transplants.
Dry Needling
Dry needling is a therapeutic technique that requires a certification to perform. Dry needling is also known as intramuscular stimulation. This technique revolves around needles and trigger points for pain relief. The needles are placed into the skin to cease and relieve pain which helps alleviate muscle tightness and spasms to decrease recovery times.

Related article: “Why You Should Consider Dry Needling?”

Edema Control
Edema control, also called dropsy, is the collection of extra liquid in the tissues of the body, which causes swelling. Edema control is achieved when the patient is moving around and not sedentary so the extra fluid can migrate from the patient’s limbs and back toward the heart.
Electrical Stimulation
Electrical stimulation, also referred to as electrotherapy, is used to interrupt pain receptors around the injury to help decrease pain. Another type of electrical stimulation technique o makes muscles contract so they develop muscle memory and re-learn how to operate.
Hot and Cold Therapy
Heat and ice or Hot and cold therapy can be used to treat shoulder pain, joint replacements, or anywhere the patient feels stiff, tight, and/or pain. Heat therapy is used to improve circulation and relax muscles to encourage muscle recovery while cold therapy is used to decrease inflammation during the initial phase of the injury.
Floor Exercises
Floor exercises help with orthopedic issues. Exercising in general helps give the patient strength and stability if he or she continues to do the exercises on their own.
Manual Therapy
Manual therapy is when the therapist massages or works on the patient’s injury. It is used to help decrease muscle tension, decrease pain, and improve muscle circulation.
Motion and Gait Training
Motion and/or gait training is most commonly used after a patient has a joint replacement or an overuse injury. Joint mobilization helps eliminate future problems most importantly for patients with prosthetics. This training can also be used for patients who suffered from a stroke or another neurological issue that impacted their walking abilities such as limited dorsiflexion, difficulty achieving knee extension or flexion, and hip extension. Neuroplasticity is a mechanism that helps your brain rewire and make new connections to achieve the best movement.
Stabilization and Balance Exercises (Vestibular Therapy)
Stabilization exercises can help a wide range of injuries especially when coupled with vestibular therapy techniques. Stabilization is needed for joints, knee or ankle/foot pain, and core stabilization for the spine. Balance training is an effective recovery technique in vestibular therapy, which may help with concussions, muscle weakness, joint weakness, and improving core strength. Balance training is also very important to increase muscle strength and help avoid future falls.
Therapeutic Ultrasound Therapy
Therapeutic ultrasound (different than diagnostic ultrasound scans) is a deep heating treatment for sprains, strains, or tendonitis. It is another physical therapy technique of pain management.
Weight Training
Weight training helps with osteoporosis, which is when the bone density decreases. Weight training can increase bone density to help decrease the chance of a fracture if the patient falls. Weight training also increases muscle strength, which help balance and coordination.
Work Hardening
Work hardening is a type of therapy that addresses a worker’s needs to help get back to work. This therapy usually follows a work-related injury involving lifting something heavy or operating heavy machinery.

We hope this has been helpful in explaining all the different types of physical therapy treatments out there and we encourage you to continue reading.

Learn More: “The Differences Between Physical Therapy and Physical Rehabilitation”