Orthopedic physical therapy (PT) is rehabilitation aimed at helping patients recover from injuries or disorders of the skeletal system and its associated muscles, joints and ligaments.

The orthopedic physical therapist uses specialized skills to assess and treat musculoskeletal injury and illness, prevent pain or further damage, train different muscles to compensate for ones that have been damaged and, ultimately, restore the patient’s ability to work, play and live as normally as possible.

Orthopedic PT is provided on an inpatient and outpatient basis at Keck Hospital of USC by therapists who are certified in this specialty. This means that they not only are licensed physical therapists, but also have met rigorous national standards of education, experience and clinical expertise in the specialty of orthopedics.

Who Benefits From Orthopedic Physical Therapy

Orthopedic PT can benefit patients with a wide range of injuries or disorders, including:

  • Lower back problems
    • Discogenic back pain or lumbar disc pain
    • Herniated disc
    • Arthritis or degenerative disk or joint disease
    • Radiculopathy
  • Post-operative joint replacement
  • Shoulder problems including frozen shoulder and shoulder separation
  • Tendonitis
  • Whiplash
  • Hip and/or pelvic pain
  • Arthritis (osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis)
  • Foot and ankle problems
  • Knee injuries – ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament), PCL (Posterior Cruciate Ligament) MCL (Medial Collateral Ligament), LCL (Lateral Collateral Ligament) and Meniscus injuries.

Comprehensive Diagnostic & Treatment Resources

The emphasis of orthopedic PT is on biomechanics — the physics of how the body moves. After a thorough assessment to identify the source of your pain or mobility problem, we will design a treatment program tailored to your unique needs, utilizing a range of treatments, including:

  • Manual therapy techniques such as joint mobilization to improve limited motion
  • Therapeutic exercise to address specific muscle dysfunction and increase muscle strength and endurance
  • Techniques to improve neuromuscular control and improve muscle sequencing
  • Bracing/Taping to support and/or hold a part of the body stable and motionless to prevent pain and further injury
  • Orthotics, custom-designed appliances that help to prevent and correct deformities that may hinder a person’s ease of movement. Orthotics also aid in support and alignment, which can help improve the function of a specific part of the body.
  • Education about self-management techniques such as the use of heat and cold to manage pain and swelling, and other self-care strategies.

At Keck Hospital of USC’s outpatient rehabilitation clinic, there is close collaboration between the outpatient rehabilitation clinic and USC’s Department of Biokinesiology & Physical Therapy, one of the top programs in the country and a prestigious center of excellence for the clinical practice, education and research of physical therapy.

Common Terms Used in Orthopedic Physical Therapy

  • Discogenic pain – Pain from an abnormal spinal disc.
  • Herniated disc – A painful condition in which, due to a tear, the central part of a vertebral disc protrudes into the spinal canal. It most commonly occurs in the lower part of the spine. It’s also called a slipped disc, and the medical term for it is prolapsed intervertebral disc.
  • Joint mobilization – Joint mobilization involves passive movement of a joint to relieve pain or restore motion . Proper application requires knowledge of joint mechanics, normal range of motion and proper technique.
  • Orthotics – Specialized, custom-designed mechanical devices to support or assist weakened or abnormal joints or limbs.
  • Radiculopathy – The irritation of a nerve root at any level of the spine (cervical, thoracic or lumbar). Radiculopathy can be caused by protrusion of a disk, by arthritis of the spine or by compression from a tumor or other disease.
  • Tendonitis – An inflammation of the tendons, structures that attach muscle to bone. Overuse is the most common cause of tendonitis.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How long will it take for me to feel better and get back to work?
A: There’s no single, simple answer to this question because each person is unique and there are so many variables that can affect the length of time it takes to recover. Our certified orthopedic PT specialists will work closely with you to establish realistic expectations, timeframes and goals, and communicate openly and honestly about your progress and prognosis.

Q: Why the emphasis on education and self-management?
A: Our over-arching goal is to help you get and stay as active as possible so that you can remain independent for as long as possible. Common orthopedic problems such as arthritis, for example, are often degenerative in nature, so we want to teach you how to manage your symptoms most effectively so that you can prevent or slow the progression of disease, and avoid or reduce dependence on medication.