Physical Therapy for Seniors: Methods, Benefits and Coverage

Physical therapy helps many seniors get back on their feet after an operation or a condition leaves them with some limitations, and it can help restore a better quality of life.

In this guide, we discuss six common reasons many seniors undergo physical therapy, as well as some of the more types and methods of therapy. We’ll also review how Medicare covers physical therapy, so that you can get a better idea of how your therapy services might be covered.

Man gets physical therapy from a therapist

6 ways that physical therapy can help seniors

There are several reasons why a senior citizen might undergo physical therapy, such as:

  1. Recovering from a fall, accident or stroke
    Falls are the most common type of accident for seniors, and they often result in broken bones and other injuries. Physical therapy can help you recover from a fall and regain strength in your affected body part.

    Seniors who suffer a stroke are also often left with one weaker hand or arm. As with recovering from a broken bone, physical therapy can help you rebuild strength and range of motion in your affected limbs.
  1. Recovering from a surgery
    Many older adults find themselves confined to bed for weeks after undergoing surgery. After an initial resting period, physical therapy helps many recovering seniors regain the strength and range of motion that they enjoyed before their procedure.
  1. Avoiding surgery
    A person may be able to avoid having surgery altogether by successfully rehabilitating an injury through physical therapy, if their doctor agrees to this treatment option.
  1. Alleviating chronic pain
    Physical therapy can be an effective form of pain relief for chronic pain conditions such as arthritis and osteoporosis.
  1. Reducing dependence on prescription medications
    Finding pain relief through physical therapy can reduce or eliminate one’s dependency on pain killing medication.
  1. Combating Alzheimer’s disease
    Exercise, including physical therapy, can help slow down the effects of Alzheimer’s disease by increasing blood flow to the brain and tempering depression and mood swings.

Physical therapy can help seniors develop strength, flexibility and endurance, which are especially helpful in helping prevent falls and keeping seniors healthy and happy overall.

Common types of physical therapy for seniors

Because there are so many different reasons for going through physical therapy, there are several different types of therapy that can match each unique need.

Depending on your situation, your doctor may recommend one of the following types of physical therapy.

  • Orthopedic physical therapy targets injuries to bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons.  

  • Geriatric physical therapy is designed to address age-related conditions such as arthritis, Alzheimer’s or hip replacement recovery.

  • Neurological physical therapy can assist with neurological disorders such as brain injuries, strokes, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and Alzheimer’s.

  • Cardiovascular or pulmonary rehabilitation aids seniors with heart and lung disorders.

  • Wound care therapy can help a wound properly heal by promoting adequate oxygen and blood flow.

  • Vestibular therapy is used to treat balance problems that can arise from inner ear infections or other problems affecting one’s equilibrium.

  • Decongestive therapy works to drain built-up fluid in patients with lymphedema and other conditions.

  • Pelvic floor rehabilitation aims to treat complications in the digestive system along with pelvic pain resulting from injuries, surgery or other conditions.

As there are different types of physical therapy, there are also a number of different methods that may be used to deliver therapeutic treatment.

Some of the physical therapy methods used to treat seniors include:

  • Physical manipulation such as stretching, walking and range of motion exercises.

  • Ultrasounds to promote blood flow and the heating of muscles, tendons and tissues.

  • Phonophoresis, which is a method of helping deliver topical medications such as steroids to reduce inflammation.

  • Electrical stimulation, which reduces pain and improves function through the use of topical electrodes on the skin.

  • Hot, cold and moist pressure therapy.

  • Light therapy, in which special lights and lasers are used.

  • Patient education about body mechanics and movements.

  • Massage therapy.

  • Hydrotherapy, which uses water to treat soft tissue and improve circulation.

Does Medicare cover physical therapy for seniors?

Medicare Part B can cover physical therapy performed in an outpatient setting and some home-care physical therapy may be covered in certain circumstances.

If physical therapy is administered at home, it may be covered by Medicare Part A.

Medicare Advantage plans (Medicare Part C) provide all the same physical therapy benefits as Medicare Part A and Part B. In addition, some Medicare Advantage plans may cover other therapeutic services not found in Original Medicare, along with extended benefits for home care that can include physical therapy.

Find a Medicare Advantage plan that covers your physical therapy needs

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This article is for informational purposes only. It is not healthcare advice. Speak to your doctor or healthcare provider about your specific healthcare needs.