We all know that visiting your physician for an annual physical is critical in maintaining long-term health, just as dental exams twice each year helps ensure oral health throughout a lifetime. But what about annual check-ups with a physical therapist?

According to physical therapists across the country, including those with the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), annual physical therapy checkups provide the third critical (and often overlooked) piece in long-term health and preventative care.

“The annual physical therapy checkup provides something that no other health provide checkup provides,” said physical therapist Lisa Culver, senior practice specialist with the APTA. “By using the movement system as the lens to look at how a person’s doing, we can play a part in disease prevention, help patients take better control of their health, and avoid or better manage a lot of chronic conditions.”

This includes identifying weaknesses, limitations, defects and other factors affecting one’s musculoskeletal system – issues that could lead to discomfort, pain or injury. Based on the results of a physical therapy “checkup” examination, a physical therapist is able to provide clients with individualized treatments and/or programs meant to help prevent future, movement-limiting issues.

“Too often, I hear older patients as, ‘Why didn’t someone tell me this earlier,’” wrote Carole B. Lewis in the Atlas of Science. Lewis works in the George Washington University’s College of Medicine, Department of Geriatrics. “Their forward head, their muscle weakness, ankle inflexibility or balance issues did not develop overnight.”

“Annual physical therapy screens and exercise programs starting at age 50, or younger, could prevent injurious falls, reduce compression fractures and improve quality of life,” Lewis added. “Most people know that physical therapists are essential to rehabilitation after surgery or accidents, but too few realize that physical therapists are the key to optimal aging.”

Physical therapists are highly-educated, licensed health care professionals who help patients reduce pain and improve or restore mobility. During a preventative checkup, a physical therapist will evaluate such things as movement/injury history, balance, aerobic capacity, functional strength, flexibility and quality of movement (i.e., gait, reach, bending, etc.).

In addition, a physical therapist will work with each person to address any personal limitations, weaknesses, pain or other impairments that may be holding them back from reaching their lifestyle and movement goals.

“Everyone, but especially middle-aged and older persons, will benefit significantly from annual screenings conducted by physical therapists … much like annual dental checkups,” Lewis said.

Physical therapy exams and/or assessments should also be considered:

  • Whenever one experiences pain, discomfort or strain when doing an activity they enjoy;
  • Whenever one is considering a new fitness or training program, or starting a new sport;
  • Following the completion of post-surgery rehab, when trying to resume normal activities; or
  • After any surgery or condition that has led to bed rest.

For more information about annual physical therapy checkups, contact your physical therapist with questions or to schedule an evaluation.