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7 Ways Physical Therapy Improves Mental Health

A physical therapist can work with you to monitor and improve your mental as well as physical health.

Physical therapy is a common practice in holistic healing, meaning that it focuses on the health and mental well-being of the patient. If you’re seeking treatment for an injury or chronic pain condition, you may also want to address the mental toll of these conditions. Mental health conditions, including high stress or depression, often manifest in the body. That’s why it’s important to consider mental health as a root issue when addressing physical conditions. Holistic healing allows your healthcare team to address the mental and physical sides of any treatment you seek.

The Physical Therapist’s role

A physical therapist has the professional capacity to screen for and address behavior and mental health conditions in their clients. The American Physical Therapy Association House of Delegates passed this position in 2020. Their position states that physical behavior and mental health are “inseparably interconnected” and so are both within the scope of the physical therapist’s duties to their patients.

A physical therapist can assess their client’s mental health when working with them to determine how best to approach and improve their client’s mental health. From there, they may suggest further treatment with other specialists, or they can recommend and administer treatments that align with the patient’s needs.

One example of a treatment a physical therapist may recommend is Mindfulness and Acceptance Based interventions (ACT and mindfulness). This family of treatments addresses mental wellbeing and is used to treat conditions physical therapists interact with regularly, like:

  • Chronic Pain
  • Stress
  • Hypertension
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Sports performance
  • Immune Function
  • Tissue Healing

How physical therapy can benefit your mental health

Physical therapists have a responsibility to monitor the mental health of their clients. However, exercise has proven benefits for mental health, regardless of the patient’s mental state. Here are some examples of how working with a physical therapist can benefit your mental health:

1. Reduced stress

Stress can create physical reactions in your body, like tension and pain. Your physical therapist can teach you muscle relaxation techniques that help you control the amount of tension your body holds. Using these techniques when you’re feeling stressed can help release tension in your body to limit the likelihood of injury or pain. However, the connection between your mental and physical states goes both ways. Releasing tension in your body can also trick your mind into thinking that you are no longer in a stressful situation, reducing the mental and physical stress you feel.

3. Improve your quality of sleep

Sleep is an essential part of any recovery program because your body must rest to heal from an injury. Sleep is also crucial to maintain. However, this connection goes both ways. Pain can make it difficult to sleep, and a lack of sleep can increase the amount of pain you experience. Physical therapists can help you improve the quality of your sleep by helping you manage your pain during the day. They can teach you stretches and exercises to strengthen your posture or reduce inflammation around an injury. By reducing your pain level physically, your therapist can help improve the quality of your sleep so your body can heal quicker.

4. Create a sense of achievement

Working with a physical therapist can create a sense of achievement through meeting milestones and adhering to a structured schedule. For example, creating and sticking to a schedule of appointments with your therapist can make you feel accomplished. Your physical therapist creates a program you can progress through by mastering exercises. As you meet these milestones, you may feel a sense of achievement. Feeling productive by meeting the goals you set for yourself can improve your mental health by providing a healthy sense of purpose. It can also inspire you to pursue achievements in other aspects of your life.

5. Improve cognitive function

Physical therapy has been shown to improve cognitive function. It may even decrease the effects of dementia in older patients. Dementia is a broad term describing when an aging brain experience changes that negatively impact the patient’s quality of life. Memory loss, confusion, disorientation, personality changes, or hallucinations are some of these changes. Exercise can increase the production of endorphins and improve neuron development. These effects can help maintain your mental capabilities and, in some cases, improve memory and elevate your mood.   

6. Reduce pharmaceutical dependence

Pharmaceutical treatments can have side effects that negatively impact your mental health. Anxiety and depression are common side effects and other physical side effects that may impact your quality of life and mental health. Physical therapy can help reduce your dependency on these treatments.

For example, you may suffer an injury and take a pain reliever with side effects like depression or anxiety to manage your injury. You can work with a physical therapist to reduce inflammation around your injury and strengthen the muscles impacted by the injury to reduce pain and regain the use of your injured body part. Through this training, you can stop taking the pain reliever, limiting your exposure to chemicals that negatively impact your brain chemistry.

7. Increase social interaction

Meeting with your physical therapist and the other therapists or medical professionals on your holistic healthcare team can provide you with social interactions that can improve your mood and mental health. People are social creatures, and interacting with others can help with feelings of depression or isolation.

At Living Well Balanced, we offer holistic healthcare from caring and experienced professionals. Your mental health is always a priority and our physical therapists are happy to work with you to create a treatment plan that addresses your mental and physical needs. You can make an appointment with one of our practitioners to find out how they can benefit your treatment plan for injury recovery or prevention and chronic pain. If you have any questions, you can always give us a call at 212-579-2858 or send an email at info@livingwb.com. Check out our blog for more information about alternative therapies.

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