A Therapy for 
Every Injury at 

According to the latest data from the American Physical Therapy Association, more than 150,000 physical therapists are licensed today. That equals 300,000 trained hands providing acute injuries and postoperative rehabilitation and pain management for chronic conditions. At OrthoCarolina, experts in the field of orthopedic physical and occupational therapy tailor a myriad of exercises and treatments to each patient for comprehensive and restorative care.

OrthoCarolina Physical and occupational therapists offer rehabilitation programs specializing in spine, hand and sports therapies, as well as work conditioning and aquatic therapy. The therapy team incorporates advanced equipment and techniques to develop a course of rehabilitation to a patient’s individual movement challenges and enhances treatment to obtain maximum function. Patients can be referred to physical therapy directly from any physician, physician assistant or nurse practitioner, although most are referred from their orthopedic specialist at OrthoCarolina.

Riding the Waves

For patients with spine, shoulder, hip, knee and ankle injuries or conditions, land-based physical therapy can be augmented by treatment in the Aquatic Therapy Program. As Carol Green, P.T. OMPT Level 1, clinical specialist II at OrthoCarolina, explains, exercising in the HydroWorx pool often speeds a patient’s return to normal function. There are three advantages to aquatic therapy, including:

  • The buoyancy of the water reduces the stress of the body weight on joints, ligaments, muscles and bones by taking pressure off the involved or weakened body part.
  • The force of the water provides resistance to allow the patient to strengthen the injured area in a more comfortable environment without pain. The pressure of the water decreases swelling and improves positional and postural awareness. It also assists in balance.
  • The warm, 90-degree temperature of the water relaxes muscles and increases circulation to the involved area to promoted healing.

Patients perform flexibility, strengthening and conditioning exercises with the aid of flotation devices and aquatic resistance equipment. The special underwater treadmill links to a television that therapists use to analyze the patient’s gait and balance. The water jets on the side of the pool create a current with additional resistance that patients can walk, run or swim against. The jet can also provide a massaging action to reduce muscle spasms. For a patient suffering from spine pain, Green may place a floatation device under his or her body to focus on arm and leg movement with the back in a relaxed position.

“The goal of the physician and the physical therapist is to rehab the patient as fast as possible in the safest environment,” says Green. “The pool is a wonderful, helpful medium to make sure that happens. Also, aquatic therapy gets patients interested in swimming programs or water aerobics in the community.”

The Athlete Within

According to Ken Breath, P.T., ATC, LAT at OrthoCarolina and sports consultant with Joe Gibbs Racing and Davidson College, sports therapy is an option for any patient from adolescents to weekend warriors to professional athletes. The main difference between an athlete and non-athlete is the desired outcome level.

“Exercises offered through our program can carry over to day-to-day functions and non-athletic movement patterns,” says Breath. “I think when patients hear ‘sports therapy,’ they think it’s going to be too aggressive for them, but sports therapists can fine tune a program for anyone.”

Treatments focus on core strength, exercise and resistance-based therapies, as well as stretching to target flexibility, muscle imbalances and movement disorders. They utilize manual therapeutic techniques in order to improve ROM, joint mobility and soft tissue disorders. Breath also provides electrical stimulation and ultrasound for pain control. Being attentive to the whole-body impact of an injury is critical in obtaining optimal functional outcomes and avoiding subsequent injuries. As he explains, an overuse shoulder injury can be linked to decreased core and spine strength, asymmetrical range of motion and balance deficits.

Breath and his fellow therapists not only shape therapy to an individual’s physical needs, but also to the patient’s goals. Patients play an active role in the ongoing conversation about how the treatment’s results match those initial goals.

A Hand Up

Since the hands are so instrumental in a patient’s quality of life, OrthoCarolina offers a dedicated rehabilitation program to return the hands to full function after injury or debilitating wounds. Marsha Hunt, certified occupational therapist and certified hand therapist at OrthoCarolina, focuses on rebuilding motion and strength through joint mobility and soft-tissue treatment.

Work with equipment such as clothespins, free weights, pegboards and putty can be combined with a dry whirlpool heat treatment called fluidotherapy or an electro current therapy called iontophoresis. Ultrasound can be used as well to decrease inflammation and pain. Hunt and her fellow therapists also employ low-temperature plastic splints for custom-fit stabilization. By soaking the material in hot water, she can mold the splint to the patient’s hand, where it will harden as it dries.

“The custom-made splint forms to the specific angles of the patient’s wrists and fingers,” Hunt says. “These splints are much more comfortable than pre-fabricated splints, and the patients can easily clean them.”

The Tools of the Trade

As in the case of aquatic therapy, the physical therapy services at OrthoCarolina extend beyond traditional therapeutic treatment. When a patient is suffering from acute or chronic pain, Demian Gutierrez, P.T., at OrthoCarolina and consultant for Hendrick Motor Sports, can employ the Graston Technique to loosen fibrotic tissue. The treatment is most beneficial for muscle strains, tendonitis and any injury or condition involving soft tissue.

The Graston Technique originated when its inventor developed an instrument to preserve his hand function. Applied to other areas of the body, the metal instruments — held at an angle and glided along the patient’s soft tissue to find and treat restriction that cause pain and movement limitations — can elicit enhanced therapeutic outcomes.

“The Graston Technique can accelerate healing in certain situations,” says Gutierrez. “It improves the healing response and promotes the healing cascade for tissue. When you use this technique and follow up with strength and flexibility, you provide a better healing environment.”

To learn more about physical therapy at OrthoCarolina or to refer a patient, visit

MDNews January/February 2012, Greater Charlotte



Sign up to receive industry news and events from MD News.

* indicates required