What Are Modalities and How Are they Used in Physical Therapy? 

Understand the Physical Therapy Treatment Process 

Generally speaking, in the medical profession, a modality is considered a kind of therapeutic agent (normally a physical one) which aids a practitioner in the therapeutic treatment of a patient. In physical therapy, it is best to think of modalities as a series of tools which a physical therapist may or may not need while treating a patient for any number of issues. There are many different modalities which might be used in treatment. However, this article will aim to outline a few of the more common ones and what they are often used for.

5 Types of Modalities and Their Benefits

Modalities used in physical therapy range widely based on the issue being treated, the physical therapists’ preferred methods and emerging technologies which might offer new avenues for treatment. However, we have put together a list of five core modality types and how they are used in treatment: 

  • Hot and cold packs: These types of modalities are quite commonly used, even outside the scope of physical therapy, for their abilities to regulate blood flow to specific areas of the body. When dealing with inflammation and swelling, a cold pack is ideal for reducing this. When a patient is suffering from sore muscles, tightness, muscle spasms or arthritis, a hot pack can quickly provide relief to the area through the stimulation of blood flow and muscle relaxation.
  • Electrical stimulation & TENS: These techniques both use an adjustable electric current to tackle things like muscle spasms, muscle soreness and chronic pain. Typically, electrical stimulation is used to modulate the contraction rhythm of muscles, which helps reduce spasms and also stimulates healing. TENS (Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation) leverages similar technology but is more commonly used for managing chronic pain not relieved by physical activity or medication. The benefit of TENS is that it is portable and does not require a physical therapist to operate. 
  • Traction: This modality is specifically used for the spine to relieve pressure, pain, inflammation and other issues in the vertebrae. Either using special machines or by hand, a physical therapist will use horizontal or vertical pulling techniques, which leverage carefully deployed force to correct issues in the spine.
  • Ultrasound: Treating similar issues as electrical stimulation, ultrasound uses sound waves as an alternative. These are deployed on specific areas of a patient’s body in order to stimulate blood flow and, as a result, promote healing or treat muscle spasms. 
  • Functional dry needling: Using a monofilament needle, this technique aims specifically at relieving pain and discomfort associated with trigger points. It may also be used to improve a patient’s range of motion in certain areas or relieve acute tightness which other methods have not been able to successfully resolve. 

Ultimately, for a physical therapy treatment to be successful, it is up to the physical therapist and their patient to determine the best modalities to use. Sometimes this involves trying different methods before narrowing the treatment down to a few, or the therapist uses their best judgement based on the patient’s history and need. When trying to determine how best physical therapy may be able to help you with chronic issues and to improve your quality of life, the best course of action is to consult with a highly experienced physical therapist.

At Medical Rehabilitation Centers of PA (MRCP), we have spent our over 40-year history working closely with our patients to develop specially designed treatments for their unique needs and goals. We use cutting edge treatment techniques and modalities to ensure we are always providing the best care and services.

To learn more about how physical therapy can improve your quality of life, book a consultation by contacting us at the location of your choice, or complete our online form and our team will get back to you as soon as possible. 

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