The Importance of Physical Therapy for Seniors

By Ann R. Miller, PT, DPT, ATC, CSCS – Clinical Director of Mishock Physical Therapy in Stowe

One in four Americans who are currently over the age of 65 will live to be at least 90 years of age. Throughout the aging process our bodies change. Loss of flexibility, strength, endurance and balance as well as changes in posture, joint health and other chronic medical conditions all contribute to making daily tasks more difficult, sometimes impossible, as well as increase one’s risk of falling or injury.

Simple tasks such as getting up from a chair, walking, negotiating steps, dressing, bathing, and preparing meals can become increasingly difficult. Participation in leisure activities and hobbies may no longer be possible or safe.

Physical therapy can help seniors improve functionality and allow for continued, safe meaningful independent living. Physical therapists are uniquely trained health care professionals who are the experts in the human movement system.

Some of the benefits of physical therapy for seniors include:

  • Reducing risk of falls. Falls are the leading cause for injury in seniors including fractures or other life threatening injuries. Education, improving balance, flexibility and strength as well as gait training are all important components in fall risk reduction.
  • Improving functional ability. Education on ways to complete activities of daily living in a more efficient and safe way, as well as exercises to improve strength, flexibility and balance are all incorporated into a physical therapy treatment program for seniors.
  • Managing pain without surgery or drugs. Physical therapy has proven to be a cost-effective way treat pain through the use of education, exercise, manual therapy techniques and modalities such as cold and heat therapy, ultrasound and electrical stimulation.
  • Treatment of chronic illness and disease. Physical therapy can help seniors who suffer from such conditions as arthritis, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis.
  • Gait Training. A physical therapist can determine whether a walking aide such as a cane or rolling walker are necessary to improve your gait or prevent falls, and they can instruct you on the proper usage.
  • Improving Posture. As we age our posture changes due to degenerative changes in our spine, loss of flexibility/mobility and sedentary life styles. Physical therapy can improve posture by education on proper positioning when sitting and lying, strengthening weak muscles and improving mobility and flexibility in joints and muscles.
  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Exercise is a key element to good health and as we age it is essential to maintaining our day to day activities and being able to safely participate in recreational and leisure activities. Physical therapists are the experts in designing an appropriate exercise program for seniors.
    Physical therapy can help seniors improve functionality and allow for continued, safe meaningful independent living. Physical therapists are uniquely trained health care professionals who are the experts in the human movement system.

A physical therapist is trained and skilled at developing an appropriate treatment program based on the unique needs of each individual. On your first appointment the physical therapist will sit down with you to discuss what activities of daily living you are having difficulty performing and whether you have fallen or are having balance difficulties. They will review your medical history to understand how it may be affecting your current functional ability and they will ask you about any pain that you may be experiencing. The physical therapist will conduct a comprehensive evaluation.

The physical therapist will assess your posture in sitting and standing positions; they will observe your gait and ability to walk and will test your balance and stability. They will assess whether you may need an assistive device for ambulation. Evaluation of the joint mobility and flexibility of your spine and extremities as well as your muscle strength will be assessed. The physical therapist may observe your ability to get out of a chair, to lie down and get up from a lying position as well as your ability to negotiate a step or curb.

The physical therapist will design a plan of care based on this evaluation, as well as take into consideration the personal goals of each patient. Together, a mutually agreed upon, treatment plan will be developed as well as a recommended treatment frequency and duration for your physical therapy sessions.

Treatment will usually include exercises to improve strength, mobility/flexibility, balance and functional ability. It may also include manual therapy by the physical therapist to reduce pain, improve range of motion/flexibility and reduce soft tissue tightness/tension. Modalities such as heat and cold therapy, electrical stimulation and ultrasound may be used for pain management.

Your physical therapist will develop a home program of exercises and activities for you and provide you with written instructions, often with pictures to help guide you when performing them at home.

Even if you have previously had physical therapy, seniors may need to periodically return for treatment, because as we age our bodies change. Often, seniors will need re-education and reinforcement on safety, transfer training and posture. Recommendations and instruction on the use of an assistive device such as a cane or walker may be indicated if the ability to walk or balance has changed.

Memory impairment is common with seniors, so returning to your physical therapist periodically is important to make sure you are performing exercises correctly and to re-educate on performance of daily activities in a safe and efficient manner. Just like your car requires periodic “tune ups” to remain working well, so do our bodies. Physical therapy is important in improving and maintaining the highest level of function and comfort as possible throughout your life.


If you want to reduce pain and increase function, call for a FREE Phone Consultation at (610)327-2600. Email your questions to

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