What is the role of physical therapy in DVT treatment?

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Answered by: Kimberly, An Expert in the Physical Therapy - General Category
The nature of physical therapy means that practitioners see patients who are dealing with muscle aches and pains frequently - and sometimes those pains can be caused by one of the world's leading silent killers, deep vein thrombosis (DVT). The role a physical therapist can play in the DVT treatment, detection and prevention can make all the difference to patients.

Treatments for DVT vary depending on the severity of the clot, its cause and presentation. For most people, a blood clot in the leg or arm doesn't come with any real warning signs and a typical course of treatment involves rest, anticoagulants and eventually a gentle exercise program. This is why DVT is often referred to as a silent killer - the condition can be easily overlooked until it is too late. Because a DVT can be undiagnosed for some time, there is a lot of potential for collateral damage, ranging from vascular malfunction to muscle atrophy. These are two areas where physical therapists can be an important part of a DVT patient's recovery.

DVT treatment can include a number of things. Where physical therapists are concerned, there are varying levels of massage that are useful for stimulating better vascular response in affected areas, specific exercises that can help to re-tone damaged muscles and even specialized compression techniques that help the body recover from the stresses of a deep vein thrombosis.

Perhaps more valuable than these areas of treatment are the preventative techniques physical therapists can offer patients at risk for developing a DVT in the first place. There are a number of factors that put people at risk for thrombosis events, including: surgery, being stationery for long periods of time, limb trauma due to an accident, previous history of DVT and long-haul air travel (or any other period of restricted movement in a confined space). The list of ways to prevent DVT is long - but the key points physical therapists can offer patients hoping to avoid the need for further DVT treatment ranges from use of specific massage and exercises prior to surgery (or other DVT risk factors being introduced) to helping a patient ensure that correct compression garments are selected before a long-haul flight.

With a deep understanding of physiology and the body's response to various conditions, physical therapists are in an ideal position to provide not only treatment for patients who have had a DVT or advice to those hoping to avoid one, but also detection of a DVT that may've been missed by other health professionals.

There are numerous cases of athletes visiting the physio for a niggling pain in the arm or leg and being referred straight to an emergency medical center for evaluation. Ice skaters, basketball players, tennis stars - people who wouldn't typically set off the DVT radar because they are young and active - but there are many causes of deep vein thrombosis, so it is dangerous to discount DVT as the root cause of pain that seems to be musculo-skeletal in origin.

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