The journey to become a specialist in the field of neurological physical therapy is a long and difficult one, but the rewards at the end of it are vast. A therapist in this field is one who can evaluate and treat those who suffer from diseases or injuries that affect their nervous systems. The scope of this type of work is actually huge, as everyday people struggle with difficulties that affect their bodies and their minds. Some of the problems people experience include:
- Injuries – a spinal or brain injury can be caused by anything from a car accident to a stroke. Even a tumor can put pressure on the brain and affect bodily functions because of it.
- Illnesses – a disease such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease can affect neurons in the brain that then affect the movement of the body. This is why in the case of Parkinson’s, patients often get to the stage where they cannot move at all.
- Disabilities – someone born with a mental problem may struggle with certain movements. Also a childhood disability such as cerebral palsy can permanently damage parts of the brain, causing problems in the body that can never be cured.
- Birth defects – in some cases, a person may be born missing a limb or with some kind of physical or neurological deformity that makes it difficult for them to live a normal life. In cases such as this, the therapist will need to help them make the best of their disability and try to live a normal life.
Neurological physical therapy is thus specially tailored for those who suffer from any problems in their brain that cause problems in their body. Some of the more usual symptoms include dizziness, loss of balance, difficulty picking up objects, performing simple tasks or walking, and others. The main reason that therapy is needed in these cases is not necessarily to completely cure the problem, but to assist in improving the patient’s quality of life.
The World Of Work For A Neurological Physical Therapist
In many states, therapists in this industry are easy to find and patients do not need to be referred by a doctor. Once you have done your training in this field, you will need to register with the APTA or American Physical Therapy Association, who offer a service that allows consumers to find therapists when they are in need. It is also vital that you have a website and in some cases, therapists who have qualified band together and start a practice together. This gives them a lot more capital to work with in the short term to get more clients in the long term.
Once you start working in this field, you will be doing a lot of specialized work with those who have problems with movement. Since the central nervous system controls their whole body, they will not be able to perform certain functions without this help. In some cases, they won’t even be able to feel certain sensations, and may need the therapy to assist in restoring feeling.
Decreased movement and lack of sensation also lead to other health problems, and this becomes a catch-22 situation. A good neurological physical therapy specialist will know how to assist patients in feeling sensations and moving, and will be able to improve the quality of their lives by giving them exercises and helping them work past mental and physical blocks. In the case of those who are learning to use prosthetic limbs, this can literally change their lives entirely.
If you decide to pursue this field, you will have to be able to perform the following functions:
- Reinstate range of motion – for a number of patients, especially those affected by injury due to a sudden accident, the loss of range of motion is a big problem. They need neurological physical therapy to help them restore the amount of use they got from their limbs, especially arms and legs.
- Assist in improving strength of muscles and movement – this is a part of the therapy that will take time, since building up strength in a limb that is not being used is a difficult process. This could include going through a range of exercises to strengthen muscles and thus support the bones and joints in the body.
- Stabilizing the core – the core is such an important part of the body since it supports the spine and assists in controlling all the other parts of the body. This is why, especially when it comes to spinal injuries, it is vital to strengthen the core.
- Improving motor control – this is very important especially in terms of fine motor control. For many people who do not have control simple tasks such as using a fork and using a pen become impossible. Even larger functions such as brushing hair and picking up objects become too difficult and the quality of life is negatively affected. This is why the physical neurological therapy is needed.
- Spine realignment – spine or posture realignment is a simple procedure that sees patients assisted with straightening their spines and working unnatural curves out of their backs. This can assist in relieving muscle pain and improving the appearance, and in those with diseases such as spinal bifida or muscular dystrophy, it can greatly improve the quality of life and help in respiration, since the lungs will have more space to expand.
- Balance and gait training – it is vital if you walk to maintain balance but in some cases people cannot do this and fall easily, especially when they have been victims of a stroke. Gait training refers to the way the foot is set down and doing this correctly is also important to avoid injury. Even for runners who do not have permanent injuries, this can be particularly helpful.
- Stamina – getting the cardiovascular system used to exercise is vital for health, but many people who have been injured, especially those with brain injuries, have to retrain their bodies to not lose too much breath when they engage in cardiovascular activities, such as long walks.
- Prosthesis adaptation – for those who have lost a limb, getting used to a prosthetic limb can be very difficult, not just in terms of using the limb, but also in terms of the mental problems that come with getting used to a new limb.
- Adapting to assisting devices – for those who will be using crutches or who are confined to wheelchairs, learning to work with a device is difficult. Thus neurological physical therapy can assist with getting used to using these devices in a way that does not obstruct movement.
Neurological physical therapists work with people to alleviate pain, improve the person’s balance and coordination, and help to restore their range of movement and motion. The work of a therapist in this field varies greatly depending on who they work with and on what part of the body. The specializations are as follows:
- Pediatric – as with any medical field, this is the sector that assists children who experience these difficulties. This is perhaps the easiest field to work in since children adapt more quickly than adults to certain processes.
- General – this field focuses more on those who are adults or young adults.
- Geriatric – in this field, the therapist will only deal with the elderly, and this can be very difficult because their bodies are degrading all the time, and it may be difficult to recover from injuries.
- Orthodontic – this deals more with areas of the face and jaw that need to be rehabilitated.
- Spinal – this field specializes in injuries and diseases that have affected the spine, and thus affect movement of all parts of the body.
- Podiatric/Limbs – in some cases, a person may need to retrain their limbs, especially in situations where they have been out of use, for example, when someone has broken a limb. In this case, they won’t be able to use the limb for a few months, and thus will need therapy to assist them in learning to use their limbs again.
As with so many medical fields of specialization, there are many variations of neurological physical therapy that you can go into, if you want to. However, this means additional study and a lot more time spent in clinics and in research.
Studying To Become A Neurological Physical Therapist
If you have chosen to become a therapist, you will need to study at an accredited center that offers a program specializing in this type of therapy. For those who are already in the medical field, many universities and colleges will offer a specialized residency program that allows you to become a therapist in just a year.
For those who choose to study, they will need to take part in courses that offer all three of following skills development sessions:
- Teaching – the basics of the training should help you to understand the theory behind what a therapist does in this field. This means that those who teach the courses need to have practical experience that they can translate into education. Students need to be mentored by the teachers and take part in the experience of becoming a neurological physical therapist.
- Clinic – once you have mastered the theory behind becoming a therapist, you will need some practical experience in this field. This means learning the rules of practice including consulting, evaluating patients and treatment. You will also need to learn how to use new technology and how to evaluate the research you gain and turn it into statistics that can be used by others.
- Leadership – in a role such as this, it is vital that you understand the type of impact you will make on those around you. This means taking part in promoting wellness and in interacting with the community to ensure everyone is taking care of their health.
For those who wish to become students and complete this course, you need to have a thorough understanding of what is involved and that means lifelong study. This is a field in which you will learn from others, from experience and from your patients. It will be emotional and there will be times when you feel that you are not getting anywhere with a patient. Someone who chooses this career path needs to be tenacious and patient, while also being willing to work long hours.
However, the rewards of working in this field are also great, since you will definitely see an improvement in your patients and will know that you are making a big difference to their lives with your neurological physical therapy. This is not a field that everyone can work in, and though the money is good, the stresses of the job may be too much for some people to manage.
In many cases, people do not become therapists in this field unless they have done some form of therapy before, either as physiotherapists or working in orthopedics. This is because of the difficult nature of rehabilitating the human body. Patients who have to undergo this type of therapy often become despondent because the therapy is difficult, painful and can take a long time to take effect.
The job is physically challenging too, in that it requires the therapists to lift patients and assist them through their therapy. This means that they will need a lot of body strength themselves and may need to practice some of their own therapy techniques to see what the effect of these is on patients.
However, for those who succeed in this field, the rewards are both monetary and emotional. This can be a very difficult field to practice in, but when you see the results in the form of people walking, regaining their motor skills and improving the quality of their lives, it all becomes worth it. And as for those who think they can do this job just for the money, you are in for an unpleasant surprise. This is a job that is physically, emotionally and mentally draining and only those with a strong constitution, body and heart can succeed in it.