The Importance of Physical Therapy for Seniors

  • Physical therapy can help seniors retain their independence, whether they are managing a long-term illness or just want to improve their general health and mobility.
  • The goal of physical therapy is to help restore and improve functionality, reduce pain and increase mobility for better strength and balance.
  • Falls are the major reason seniors require physical therapy.
  • As people age, they tend to lose flexibility, strength and often their balance, so maintaining the desired level of fitness becomes increasingly challenging. Loss of these functions could lead to a fall that could cause serious injury. Physical therapy helps improve these functions.

Definition: Geriatric Physical Therapy

Geriatric physical therapy covers a wide area of issues concerning people as they go through normal adult aging but is usually focused on the older adult. There are many conditions that affect many people as they grow older and include but are not limited to the following: arthritis, osteoporosis, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, hip and joint replacement, balance disorders, incontinence, etc. Geriatric physical therapists specialize in providing therapy for such conditions.

Forms of Geriatric Physical Therapy


Exercise is defined as any form of physical activity that is beyond what the person does while performing their daily tasks. Exercise is something that is designed to both maintain and improve a person's coordination, muscle strength, flexibility and physical endurance, as well as their balance. It is meant to increase their mobility and lessen their chance of injury through falling. Exercise in relation to geriatric therapy might include activities such as stretching, walking, weight lifting, aquatic therapy, and specific exercises that are geared towards a particular injury or limitation. A physical therapist works with the person, teaching them to exercise on their own, so they may continue their exercise program at home.

Manual Therapy:

Manual therapy is applied with the goals of improving the person's circulation and restoring mobility they may have lost due to an injury or lack of use. This form of therapy is also used to reduce pain. Manual therapy can include manipulation of the person's joints and muscles, as well as massage.


Education is important to the success and effectiveness of geriatric physical therapy. People are taught ways of performing daily tasks safely. Physical therapists also teach people how to use assistive devices, as well as how to protect themselves from further injury. Older adults can utilize physical therapy as a means for regaining their independence. Physical therapy can help seniors to feel better, as well as to enjoy a higher quality of life.

The potential for age-related bodily changes to be misunderstood can lead to limitations of daily activities. The usual process of aging does not need to result in pain, or decreased physical mobility. A physical therapist can be a source of information for understanding changes in the body, they can offer assistance for regaining lost abilities, or for development of new ones. A physical therapist can work with older adults to help them understand the physiological and anatomical changes that occur with the aging process.

Physical Therapists

Physical therapists evaluate and develop specifically designed, therapeutic exercise programs. Physical therapy intervention can prevent life-long disability, restoring the person's level of functioning to its highest level. A physical therapist uses things such as treatments with modalities, exercises, educational information, and screening programs to accomplish a number of goals with the person they are working with, such as:

  • Reduce pain
  • Improve sensation, joint proprioception
  • Increase overall fitness through exercise programs
  • Suggest assistive devices to promote independence
  • Recommend adaptations to make the person's home accessible and safe
  • Prevent further decline in functional abilities through education, energy conservation techniques, joint protection
  • Increase, restore or maintain range of motion, physical strength, flexibility, coordination, balance and endurance
  • Teach positioning, transfers, and walking skills to promote maximum function and independence within the person's capability

There are various common conditions that can be effectively treated through physical therapy. Among the specific diseases and conditions that might affect older adults which can be improved with physical therapy are arthritis, osteoarthritis, stroke, Parkinson's disease, cancer, amputations, urinary and fecal incontinence, and cardiac and pulmonary diseases. Conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, dementia's, coordination and balance disorders, joint replacements, hip fractures, functional limitations related to mobility, orthopedic or sports injuries can also be improved through geriatric physical therapy.