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What Are Therapeutic Modalities?

By Sandra Koehler
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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During the healing phase of an injury, an individual may need help in managing pain symptoms or regaining mobility. Physical therapy is a medical specialty that aids in pain management and the recovery of functional range of motion, or normal movement and strength. Therapeutic modalities are devices, usually mechanical in nature, that complement common hands-on treatment methods, and stretching and exercise routines, to maximize pain-free functional mobility.

The most common forms of therapeutic modalities are use of heat and ice. The application of ice in the form of an ice pack is used to relieve pain and decrease swelling and inflammation. Using heat in the form of a moist hot pack sometimes aids in decreasing pain and relieving tightness or spasms while increasing circulation to the affected area to promote the healing process. Another standard method of delivering heat or ice is with the use of a therapeutic tub, also referred to as a whirlpool. Submerging the body or body part in a temperature-appropriate agitating bath is often an effective way to bring about the individual healing properties related to temperature along with the soothing feeling of a massage to break up tightness and provide overall stress relief.

Another beneficial way to deliver heat through therapeutic modalities is by way of ultrasound. Similar to the diagnostic ultrasound used to help identify and analyze potential problems inside the body, a therapeutic ultrasound uses a slightly different variation in sound waves to deliver a penetrating heat to the affected area. This method can aid in reaching muscles located deeper inside the body.

Pain-relieving therapeutic modalities may also include the use of electrical stimulation, the most common a Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulator (TENS). A TENS unit delivers small electrical charges to a specific area of pain or tightness through the placement of electrodes. These charges block the pain signals from the brain and are thought to increase the body’s endorphins, or natural pain killers. Electrical stimulation can also be utilized to aid in the recovery of muscle strength or the retraining of muscles to contract in the form of a unit called “EMS”, or electrical muscle stimulator.

Another conventional method of therapeutic modalities is through the use of traction. Traction uses a pulling force to decrease muscular spasms and tightness to aid in the realignment of the bones. It is commonly used for neck or back injuries. However, in some instances, traction can be helpful in limb injuries such as broken bones or joint dislocations.

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