Healthy Living

Are There Risks to Physical Therapy?

Are There Risks to Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy tries to address the illness or injury that prevents a person from living their daily lives, and performing activities. To arrive at a diagnosis, they use a physical examination and past history to come up with a management plan. Physical therapy management often involves prescriptions or help with exercise, manual therapy and guidance. Physical agents such as heat, cold, electricity, radiation, sound waves, mechanical devices, education, prostheses, orthoses and others. During the course of therapy there are several risks involved. This risks need to be addressed to help minimize complications.


Pain with Gain

Pain is a major risk you are going to experience while undergoing therapy. Stretching, turning and twisting will hurt as your sessions progresses. This pains might reduce your motivation to continue. Some tools such as heated wax and cold packs are used to relieve pain during therapy. Transcutaneous electrical nerve simulators send mild electrical pulses to the nerves through the skin and can also be used to relieve pain. But, your therapist and physician should first approve these methods and tools to use in your therapy routine.



Another common side effect of therapy is swelling. Edema is a response from the body sometimes caused by movement of ligaments and tendons causing pain and functional restrictions. Consult your physician and therapist to prescribe drugs or introduce other treatments available to assist and control swelling and improve circulation.


Lack of Outcome

Sometimes physical therapy might not yield results. This might be depressing and might make you stop the therapy altogether. Re-injury and pains might occur if you discontinue therapy before the recommended time. Talk with your therapist to help them identify alternative treatments to help you achieve your recovery goals. 


Psychological and Emotional Issues

This is usually a difficult time that puts strains on  your normal life duties and tasks. Frequent visits, pains, slow progress and time involved can interrupt your schedule. Involving your family members and friends is advisable to help you focused on the therapy. Ask them for assistant when possible. Talk to a counselor on proper transition methods in case you will not be able to go back to work as a result of your condition.


Dealing with the Risks

Physical therapy malpractice cases are on the rise with patients filing cases more frequently.

Frequent claims category are:

  • Communication mistakes
  • Information disclosure
  • Poor supervisory skills to the patient
  • Improper technique
  • Injury from manipulation
  • Other related injuries like burns from the use of hot packs
  • Exercise injuries

There are ways to cut down on the risks of each situation:

The art of patient-physician communication – A physical therapist should focus on open, honest communication, that builds confidence and promotes healing.

Aligning expectations – A patient's anxiety is lessened and increases their trust with the physician. The patient understands the issues well and should be able to handle any complications.

Scope of Practice – As a physical therapist or assistant physical therapist, you should always be careful not to go beyond your scope of practice and care standards as laid out by your state licensing authority.

Care Protocols – There should be rules in place for each session and each type of therapeutic activity. There should also be a detailed planned responses to patient injuries or reported soreness.

Observation of Patients – A physical therapist should carefully observe any changes in behavior or appearance that would call for alternative or adjusted treatment.

Thorough Documentation – Thorough documentation of all information provided by the patient, their care giver and health care providers should be kept for treatment and legal purposes.

Key Takeaways

  • Pain is a major risk you are going to experience when undergoing therapy
  • Another commons side effect of therapy is swelling
  • Sometimes physical therapy might not yield results