Neurologic physical therapy involves the evaluation and treatment of individuals with movement problems caused by disease or injury affecting the nervous system.
Neurologic physical therapy is one of the most complex types of physical therapy, as it encourages the proper functioning of nerve cells and motor functions. Physical therapy in neurology focuses on:
- Movement patterns
- Functional ability
Injury to a patient’s spinal cord or brain may result in the death of cells that control specific movements and sensations, which then leads to a loss of function. Patients with neurologic conditions may suffer from a loss of:
- Activities of daily living
- Loss of functional independence
The ultimate goal of neurologic physical therapy is to improve a patient’s quality of life, improve balance and coordination, and restore range of motion, all so as to help patients achieve independence.
This type of specialized physical therapy treats patients suffering from:
- Acute or chronic peripheral neuropathies (Guillain-Barre syndrome, chronic inflammatory neuropathy, etc.)
- Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
- Balance and vestibular disorders
- Central and peripheral nervous system tumors
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Pediatric conditions (cerebral palsy, spina bifida, etc.)
- Spinal cord injuries
- Traumatic brain injuries
Job Duties of Physical Therapist Assistants in Neurologic Rehabilitation
Physical therapist assistants in neurology, working under the guidance and supervision of licensed physical therapists, evaluate and treat patients with neurological disorders so as to help them improve, maintain, or restore their mobility.
Through the implementation of exercises and specialized treatments, physical therapist assistants help patients with neurologic diseases or conditions avoid any further loss of function and may even help them gain some of the function they lost.
Physical therapist assistants offer a variety of services to patients with diseases and conditions involving the nervous system, at each stage of rehabilitation.
The first stage of treatment always involves a thorough evaluation, during which time the physical therapist and physical therapist assistant develop an individualized plan to maximize the patient’s quality of life. They address the patient’s ability to move, physical limitations/considerations, and personal goals, as well as the best course of treatment to help the patient return to the highest possible level of activity.
Physical therapist assistants in neurology use a variety of modalities and therapies, such as:
- Therapeutic exercise
- Balance activities
- Compensatory techniques and strategies
- Specialized rehabilitation services
- Speech and language therapies
- Swallowing therapies
- Gait training with assistive devices/equipment
- Adaptive recreation and sports activities
- Neurological re-education of movement and activity patterns
They also often provide patients with specialized services, such as:
- Orthotic/prosthetic training
- Assistive device training
- Wheelchair fitting
- Home safety assessments
Many times, due to the complexity and severity of many neurologic conditions and disorders, physical therapist assistants serve as part of a multidisciplinary team of medical professionals that include physicians, rehabilitation nurses, occupational therapists, speech-language therapists, case managers, nutritionists, respiratory therapists, and social workers, just to name a few.
Physical therapist assistants work closely with the medical team to address the needs of the patient and adapt treatment as the patient progresses.
Education and Certification Options for Physical Therapist Assistants in Neurology
Licensed physical therapists have the option of achieving specialized certification in neurology through the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties. Although this designation is not available to physical therapist assistants, these professionals may achieve expertise in neurologic physical therapy through the completion of elective coursework in their associate degree program or through continuing education/professional development courses.
For example, the Neurology Section of the American Physical Therapy Association offers a multitude of physical therapy neurology courses to licensed physical therapist assistants, such as:
- Expanding Neurologic Expertise: Advanced Practice in Vestibular Physical Therapy
- Advanced Neurologic Practice: The Impact of Physical Therapy Interventions on Neuroplasticity
- Expanding Neurologic Expertise: Advancing Clinical Practice in Acute Stroke Rehabilitation
Many times, physical therapist assistants receive the bulk of their training in neurology by working under the guidance of licensed physical therapists with expertise in the field of neurologic physical therapy.
Just a few of the settings where physical therapists who practice neurology may work include:
- Acute care settings
- Rehabilitation centers
- Outpatient clinics
- Skilled nursing and long-term care facilities
- Patient homes