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Cha p t e r

Introduction to Physical Agents

and How They Are Used
What Are Physical Agents? information on the physiological processes influenced by
Categories of Physical Agents physical agents. After reading this book, the reader will he
Thermal Agents able to integrate the ideal physical agent(s) and interven-
Mechanical Agents tion parameters within a complete rehabilitation program
Electromagne tic Agents to promote optimal patient outcome.
History of Physical Agents in Medicine and Rehabilitation This book's recommendations regarding the clinical use
A p p r o ac h e s to R e h a b i l i t a t i o n of physical agents integrate concepts from a variety of
The Role of P hysical Age nts in Rehab ilitatio n sources. Specific recommendations are derived from the
Evaluation and Planning for the Use of Physical Agents best available research-based evidence on the physiologic
Do c um e ntatio n effects and clinical outcomes of applying physical agents
Practitioners Using Physical Agents to patients. The World Health Organization's (WHO)
General Contraindications and Precautions for Physical International Classification for Functioning, Disability,
Agent Use and Health (1CF) model is used to consider and describe
the impact of physical agent interventions on patient out-
M alig na nc y
comes. This model was developed in 2001, as an approach
Pacemaker or O ther Imp lanted E lectronic Dev ice
Imp air ed Se ns atio n and M entatio n
to describing functional abilities and differences and has
Choosing a Physical Agent
been adopted globally, particularly among rehabilitation
Attributes to Consider in the Selection of Physical Agents professionals.' Additionally, the American Physical
Effects of Physical Agents Therapy Association's Guide to Physical Therapist Prac-
Inflammation and Healing tice, 2nd edition (the Guide) is widely used by physical
Pain therapists to categorize patients according to preferred
Collage n Ex te ns ib ility and Mo tio n Re s tr ic tio ns practice patterns. 2 These patterns include typical findings
Muscle Tone and descriptive norms of types and ranges of interventions
Evidence-Based Practice for conditions in each pattern.
Using Physical Agents in Combination with Each Other or After this introductory chapter, the book is divided into
With Other Interventions two sections. The first section discusses typical musculo-
Using Physical Agents within Different Health Care Delivery s kel et al an d n eu ro mu s cul ar p ro b l ems th at ma y b e
Systems addressed by the use of physical agents. The second section
Chapter Review describes the physical properties, physiologic effects, and
Additional Resources
application techniques for the types of physical agents
Web Sites
currently available.
Glossary An appendix added to this edition includes a full-color
version of the Electrical Stimulation, Ultrasound, and Laser
This book is intended primarily as a course text for those Light Handbook. The handbook is now also available on
learning to use physical agents in rehabilitation. It the accompanying Evolve site along with boards-style
was written to meet the needs of students learning about examination questions, figure exercises, links to iviedline
for all the cited journal references, glossary activities, and
the theory and practice of applying physical agents and
links to additional resources. PDF versions of the chapter
to assist practicing rehabilitation professionals in review-
glossaries, case studies, application techniques, and the
ing and updating their knowledge about the use of physi- handbook are also available for use as custom quick-
cal agents. This book describes the effects of physical reference or study guides. The instructor's site includes
agents, gives guidelines on when and how physical agents structured lab activities and downloadable copies of all the
can be most effectively and safely applied, and describes figures in the book for use in power-point presentations.
the outcomes that can be expected from integrating physi-
cal agents within a program of rehabilitation. The book
covers the theory underlying the application of each agent WHAT ARE PHYSICAL AGENTS?
and the research concerning its effects, providing a ratio- Physical agents are energy and materials applied to patients
nale for the treatment recommendations. There is also to assist in rehabilitation. Physical agents include heat,

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T es Clinical Exam les

Deep heating agents Ultrasound,
, old NN.Itot pst+StIlle, Nk15111111, 0101011t3WIltill 1,011,111,TH, diathermy Hot pack
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,.. the hii IT, io. 0 hill
Ice pack
gv.,, iiiltraviiniet (UV) rimiliation cil
11 , .,1% M.14.11 ,I\ Mechanical traction Elastic bandage, stockings Whirlpool
ititvar,,,,,mi old the,i, itiat means , 0 apilh ing the enci ;\ , , Ultrasound
. m , % L t m i, 0 1 a n 1 1 1 1 1 ,k. M i l k i 1 1 , 1 1 1 , , t i k i k ( . 1 I Ill' Ultraviolet, laser
ical nittiality. 1$11 \it al Agent iiiiiii,illt . and

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l'hystkal agents t. apt he hi\ l i f t l nl,ll, inck hail
or elet - troinagnetic lahle l lL
Thermal agents include
deep heatmg agents. stipt'tIit heating agents, and super-

ficial cooling agents. Mechanical agents include trac-

tion, compression, water, and st lurid. Electromagnetic
agents include electromagneti,. fields and electrical
c ur re nts . Some p hys ica l a g ents hill into mor e t h a n o n e
category, Water and ultrasound, for example, can have
mechanical and 'her nial tech,
l'hermal agents transfer energy to a patient to produce an
increase or decrease in tissue temperature, Examples of
thermal agents include hot packs, ice packs, ultrasound,
whirlpool, and diathermy. Cryotherapy is the thera-
peutic application of cold, whereas thermotherapy is
the therapeutic application of heat. Depending on the
thermal agent and the body part to which it is applied,
temperature changes may he superficial or deep and may
affect one type 01 tissue more than another. For example,
a hot pack produces the greatest temperature increase in
superficial tissues with high thermal conductivity in the
area directly below it. In contrast, ultrasound produces
heat in deeper tissues and produces the most heat in
tissues with high ultrasound absorption coefficients such
as tendon and bone. Diathermy, which involves the appli-
cation of shortwave or microwave electromagnetic energy,
heats deep tissues with high electrical conductivity.
Thermotherapy is used to increase circulation, meta-
bolic rate, and soft tissue extensibility or to decrease pain.
Cryotherapy is applied to decrease
circulation, metabolic
Cate o Categories of Physical Agents

Superficial heating
Cooling agents
Mechanical Traction

Electromagnetic Electromagnetic fields
Electric currents
TENS, Transelectrical nerve stimulation.

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//11.1 %le 1),i.t1 pathology and the force, duration, and means of traction
application used. Further information on the theory and
at I limn. A toll Inv iissiriti c1t the principles
u n d e r i y i n
practice of applying traction is provided in Chapter 10.
Compression is used to counteract fluid pressure and
tlic 111,14cyses tit heat tiatisler, the methodsof heat control or reverse edema. The force, duration, and means
tran s f er ",,,i to i c h a hluidtion, and tlic viiccts,
indications, and c o n tr a in d ic a t i on s I n t a p p ly i ng of applying compression can be varied to control the mag
s up e r f ic ia l h e a t i ng a n d t u t l l l l i g i l y , 4 t i t . , i n u v i i i t . ( 1 i n
Chapiei Ii rhe princio"
and 111,0 fit 1. tit applying (lt.cp M'a'in}; tgpiiis are
distily te ti iii ( li v ier 7 In I lie sect 115 1111 1 het mal
application % ( ) I M i t t i n c l i a p t c r 1 . 1 H I
s e c t i m
d ia llier
and noitinit hernial

Ultrasound is a
Ultram)und isdelm.(eisdfsaescosnodui,iritt
physical agent
that has both tiwrinai
vitli a irequency ot grcater than 20,0( ,)0
cannot he cyc
I rd by humans because ot its high frequenc y.
iical form of energy composed of
Ultrasound is a medial
alternating waves of compression anti rarefaction.
Thermal elicits, including increased deep and
superficial tis sue temperature, are produced by
continuous ultrasound waves of a sufficient intensity,
and nontherrnal effects are produced by both continuous
and pulsed ultrasound. Continuous ultrasound is
used to heat deep tissues t o increase circulation,
ntetalElic rate, and soft tissue extensibility and
deLrease pain. Pulsed ultrasound is used t o facilitate
tissue healing or promote transdermal drug penetration
by nonthermal mechanisms. Further information on
the theory and practice of applying ultrasound can be
found in Chapter 7.
Mechanical agents apply force to increase or decrease
pressure on the body. Examples of mechanical agents
include water, traction, compression, and sound.
Water can provide resistance, hydrostatic pressure, and
buoyancy for exercise or apply pressure to clean open
wounds. Traction decreases the pressure between
structures, and compression increases the pressure on
and between structures. Ultrasound is discussed in the
previous section.
The therapeutic use of water is called
hydrotherapy. Water can be applied with or without
immersion. Immersion in water increases the pressure
around the immersed area, provides buoyancy, and if
there is a difference in temperature between the area
and the water, transfers heat to or from the area.
Movement of the water produces local pressure that can
be used as resistance for exercise when an area is
immersed and for cleansing or debriding open wounds
with or without immersion. Further information on
the theory and practice of hydrotherapy is provided in
Chapter 9.
Traction is most commonly used to alleviate
pressure on structures such as nerves or ioints that
produce pain or other sensory changes or that become
inflamed when compressed. Traction can normalize
sensation and prevent or reduce damage or
inflammation of compressed structures. The pressure-
relieving effects of traction may be temporary or
permanent, depending on the nature of the underlying
Iistr a1lalliols t o P h r Oi la Avila% /how they itre L si'd CHAPTER 1

t h e elks
tit to accommodate ilitteielit patient limn)" major Roman and Cireek cities.' The health
needv I wailer inionnation Oil the them% laaAti( t benefits 1 snaking and exeri icing in hot water regained
applying, compression is provided in t II popularity tummies later with the advent of health spas in
Europe In he la le I (Alt cenittry In areas of natural hot
ELECTROMAGNETIC AGENTS springs. Today, the practices (if soaking and exercising in
Electromagnetic agents apply energy in the form 01 elec- water continue to he popular throughout the world
tromagnetic radiation or an electrical current. Examples because water provides resistance and buoyancy,
of electromagnetic agents include UV radiation, infrared allowing the development nl st re' igt li and endurance
(alt) radiation, laser, diathermy, and electrical current, while reducing weight bearing on compression-sensitive
Variation of the trequency and intensity of electromag- joints.
netic radiation changes its Meets and depth of penetra- Other historic applications of physical agents include
tion. For example, UV radiation, which has a frequency of the use of electrical torpedo fish in approximately 400 act.
7,5x 10" to 10" cycles/second, produces erythema and to treat headaches and arthritis by applying electrical
tanning of the skin but does not produce heat, whereas IR shocks to the head and feet. Amber was used in the 17th
radiation, which has a frequency of 10" to 10" cycles/ century to generate static electricity for the treatment of
second, produces heat only in superficial tissues. Lasers skin diseases, inflammation, and hemorrhage.4 There are
output monochromatic, coherent, directional electromag- also reports from the 17th century of charged gold leaf
netic radiation that is generally in the frequency range of being used to prevent scarring from smallpox lesions.'
visible light or IR radiation. Continuous shortwave dia- Before the widespread availability of antibiotics and
thermy, which has a frequency of 10' to 106cycles/second, effective analgesic and antiinflammatory drugs, physical
produces heat in both superficial and deep tissues. When agents were commonly used to treat infection, pain, and
shortwave diathermy is pulsed (pulsed shortwave dia- inflammation. Sunlight was used for the treatment of
thermy IPSWDI) to provide a low average intensity of tuberculosis, bone and joint diseases, as well as dermato-
energy, it does not produce heat; however, the electromag- logical disorders and infections. Warm Epsom salt baths
netic energy is thought to modify cell membrane perme- were used for the treatment of sore or swollen limbs,
ability and cell function by nonthermal mechanisms and Although physical agents have been used for their ther-
may thus control pain and edema. These agents are apeutic benefits throughout history, over time, new uses,
thought to facilitate healing via biostimulative effects on applications, and agents have been developed and certain
cells. Further information on the theory and practice of agents and applications have fallen out of favor. New uses
applying electromagnetic radiation and on lasers and of physical agents have developed as a result of increased
other forms of light is provided in Chapter 12. UV radia- understanding of the biological processes underlying
tion and diathermy are discussed in Chapters 13 and 14 disease, dysfunction, and recovery and in response to
respectively. the availability of advanced technology. For example, the
Electrical stimulation (ES) is the use of electrical use of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation
current to induce muscle contraction (motor-level ES) and (TENS) for the treatment of pain was developed based on
changes in sensation (sensory-level ES), reduce edema, or the gate control theory of pain modulation, as pro-
accelerate tissue healing. The effects and clinical applica- posed by Melzack and Wall." The gate control theory states
tions of electrical currents vary according to the wave- that that nonpainful stimuli can inhibit the transmission
form, intensity, duration, and direction of the current flow of pain at the spinal cord level. The various modes of TENS
and according to the type of tissue to which the current application now available are primarily the result of the
is applied. Electrical currents of sufficient intensity and recent development of electrical current generators that
duration can depolarize nerves, causing sensory or motor allow fine control of the applied electrical current.
responses that may be used to control pain or increase Physical agents usually fall out of favor because the
muscle strength and control. Electrical currents with an intervention is ineffective or because more effective inter-
appropriate direction of flow can also attract or repel ventions are developed. For example, IR lamps were com-
charged particles and alter cell membrane permeability to monly used to treat open wounds because the superficial
control the formation of edema, promote tissue healing, heat they provide can dry out the wound bed; however,
and facilitate transdermal drug penetration. Further infor- these lamps are no longer used for this application because
mation on the theory and practice of electrical current we now know that wounds heal more rapidly when kept
application is provided in Chapter 8. moist.'m During the early years of the 20th century,
sunlight was used to treat tuberculosis; however, since
HI STO R Y O F PHYSI C AL AG EN TS I N the advent of antibiotics, which are generally effective
in eliminating bacterial infections, physical agents are
now rarely used to treat tuberculosis or other infectious
Physical agents have been a component of medical and diseases.
rehabilitation treatment for many centuries and are used A number of physical agents have waned in popularity
across a wide variety of cultures. Ancient Romans and because they are cumbersome, have excessive associated
Greeks used heat and water to maintain health and to treat risks, or interfere with other aspects of treatment. For
various musculoskeletal and respiratory problems, as evi- example, the use of diathermy as a deep-heating agent was
denced by the remains of ancient bath houses with steam very popular 20 to 30 years ago, but because the machines
rooms and pools of hot and cold water still present in are large and awkward to move around, can easily burn
patients if not used appropriately, and can interfere with
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4 CHAPTER 1 intrlim rim to Pin tTpir,. am' Iiin
ost /HI kr, I 'I'd
Health condition
Idinnraipr or disease)

Level at which Participation

physical agents Body functions Activity
have direct effects and structure

Environmental factors

Contextual factors

FIG 1-1 Model for the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF). from World Health Organization: Towardsa Common
Language for Functioning, Disability, and Health: International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF), Geneve), 2002, WHO.

the functioning of computer-controlled equipment nearby,

diathermy is not commonly used today in the United
States (US). However, diathermy is covered is this book
because it is used in some practices and falls within the impairment or
scope of physical therapist practice.
This book focuses on the physical agents most com- ment is characterized as an abnormality of structure or
monly used in the US today. Physical agents that are not f "f
of pathologyooisbased
commonly used in the US but were popular in the recent
ments that lead to disabilities and handicaps." impair
past and those that are popular abroad or expected to m e n t
come back into favor as new delivery systems and applica- function of body or organ, including mental function,
tions are developed are covered more briefly. The popular- Disability is characterized as a restriction of activities
ity of particular physical agents is based on their history resulting from an impairment,. and handicap is the social
of clinical use and in most cases, research data supporting level of the consequences of diseases characterized as tilt
their efficacy; however, in some cases, their clinical appli- individual's disadvantage resulting from impair
cation has continued despite lacking or limited supporting disability. Shortly after the ICIDH model was published,
evidence. More research is needed to clarify which inter- Nagi developed a similar model that classified the sequelae
ventions and patient characteristics provide optimal of pathology as impairments, functional limitatio55,
results. Further study is also needed to determine precisely and disabilities.' He defined impairments as alterations in
what outcomes should be expected from the application anatomical, physiological, or psychological structures or
of physical agents in rehabilitation. functions that result from an underlying pathology. in
the Nagi model, functional limitations were defined
APPROACHES TO REHABILITATION as restrictions in the ability to perform an activity in an
Rehabilitation is a goal-oriented intervention designed to efficient, typically expected, or competent manner and
maximize independence in individuals who have compro- disabilities were defined as the inability to perform activi.
mised function. Function is usually compromised by some ties required for self-care, home, work, or community
underlying pathology and secondary impairments and roles.
is affected by environmental and personal factors. Com- Over the years, the WHO has worked to update the
promised function may lead to disability. Rehabilitation ICIDH model to reflect and create changes in perceptions
generally addresses the sequelae of pathology to of people with disabilities and to meet the needs of differ-
maximize a patient's function and ability to participate ent groups of individuals. In 2001 the WHO published the
in usual activities, rather than being directed at ICIDH-2, also known as the International Classification of
resolving the pathology itself, and should take into Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) (Fig. 1-1).' In
consideration the environmental and personal factors contrast to the earlier linear model, the ICF model views
affecting each patient's individual activity and functioning and disability as a complex dynamic interac-
participation limitations and goals. tion between the health condition of the individual and
A number of classification schemes exist to categorize the contextual factors of the environment, as well as per-
the sequelae of pathology. In 1980, WHO published the sonal factors. It is applicable to all people, whatever their
first classification scheme for the consequences of diseases, health condition. The language of the ICF is neutral to
known as the International Classification of Impairments, etiology, placing the emphasis on function rather than
Disabilities and Handicaps (ICIDH).9 This scheme, based condition or disease. It is also designed to he relevant
across cultures, as well as age groups and genders, making
ordoisneaa it appropriate for heterogeneous populations.

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The original models were intended to differentiate
disease and pathology from the limitations they produced'
These models were developed primarily for use by reha-
Introduction to Physical Agents and How They Are Used CHAPTER 1 5

bilitation professionals, The new model has a more posi- ments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions.
tive perspective on the changes associated with pathology Rehabilitation professionals must assess and set goals not
and disease and is intended for use by a wide range of only at the level of impairment, such as pain, decreased
people. including community, national, and global insti- range of motion, or hypertonlcity (increased muscle
tutions that create policy and allocate resources for persons tone), but also at the level of activity and participation.
with disabilities. Specifically, the ICE has tried to change These goals should include the patient's goals, such as
the perspective of disability from the negative focus of being able to get out of bed, ride a bicycle, work, or
"consequences of disease" used in the 1C1DEI to a more compete in a marathon.
positive focus on "components of health." Thus the ICIDH
used categories of impairments, disabilities, and handicaps THE R OLE OF PHYSIC AL AGENTS
to describe sequelae of pathology, whereas the ICE uses
IN REHABILITATION _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

categories of health conditions, body functions, activities,

and particip atio n to fo cus o n abilities r ather than Physical agents are tools to be used when appropriate as
limitations. components of rehabilitation. The American Physical
This book uses the terminology and framework of the Therapy Association's (APTA) position statement concern-
ICF model to evaluate clinical findings and determine a ing the exclusive use of physical agents, published in 1995
plan of care for the individuals described in the case and reiterated in 2005, states that "Without documenta-
studies. The ICF model reflects the interaction between tion which justifies the necessity of the exclusive use of
health conditions and contextual factors as they affect physical agents/modalities, the use of physical agents/
disability and functioning. Health conditions include dis- modalities, in the absence of other skilled therapeutic
eases, disorders, and injuries. Contextual factors include or educational interventions should not be considered
environmental and personal factors. Social attitudes and physical therapy.' In other words, the APIA believes
structures, legal structures, terrain, and climate are exam- that the use of physical agents alone does not generally
ples of environmental factors. Personal factors are those constitute physical therapy and that in most cases, physi-
things that influence how disability is experienced by a cal agents should be applied in conjunction with other
person, such as gender, age, education, experience, and interventions.

character. The ICF model is designed to be used in con-
junction with the International Classification of Diseases 0 Clinical Pearl
(ICD), a classification used throughout the US health care Physical agents are usually
system to document and code medical diagnoses. used with other interventions and not as the sole
The ICF model is structured around three levels of func- intervention.
tioning: the body or a part of the body, the whole person,
and the whole person in a social context.
The use of physical agents as a component of physical
therapy involves the integration of appropriate interven-
I Clinical Pearl tions. This integration may include applying a physical
The ICF model agent or educating the patient in its application as part
considers the body, the whole person, and the person of a complete program to help patients achieve their activ-
in society. ity and participation goals. However, since the aim of
this text is to give clinicians a better understanding of
the theory and appropriate application of physical
agents, it focuses on the use of physical agents and
Dysfunction at any of these levels is called a disability
describes other components of the rehabilitation program
and results in impairments (at the body level), activity
in less detail.
limitations (at the whole person level), and participation
Physical agents have direct effects primarily at the
restrictions (at the social level). For example, a person who
level of impairment. These effects can promote improve-
suffers a stroke may be weak on one side of the body (an
ments in activity and participation. For example, for a
impairment). This impairment may cause difficulty with
patient with pain that impairs motion, electrical currents
activities of daily living (activity limitation). The person
can be used to stimulate sensory nerves to control pain
may also be unable to attend social gatherings he or she
and allow the patient to increase their motion and thus
once enjoyed (participation restriction).
increase their activity, such as lifting objects, and their
The ICF resulted from combining medical and social
participation, such as returning to work. Physical agents
models of disability. In the medical model, disability is the
can also increase the effectiveness of other interventions.
result of an underlying pathology, and to treat the dis -
They are used in conjunction with or in preparation for
ability one must treat the pathology. In the social model,
therapeutic exercise, functional training, and manual
disability is the result of the social environment, and to
mobilization. For example, a hot pack may be applied
treat the disability, one must change the social environ-
before stretching to increase the extensibility of the super-
ment to make it more accommodating.
ficial soft tissues and promote a more effective and safe
Thus medical treatment is generally directed at the
increase in soft tissue length when the stretching force is
underlying pathology or disease, whereas rehabilitation
focuses primarily on reversing or minimizing impair -
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Are Used
1 h ar ir gh it film h i !'hi th eel eigent$ mill HOW Tiller 1
OF PHYSICAL AGENTS Intervention; Hot pack to low back, 20 minutes, Frt
When considering the applicat Hill r,i d phv,i(Alagent, (me prone,

should first check the physician's referral, it oil,' is required, 4 Y e r ' ' o f t c w g 1 6

for a medical diagnosis of t he' paiiVIWS condition and any Foottreatrett r'inevel4110.S:tingt1ranee ilCreak ,
net eseirN prCciliii1011%. Precautions are condit k ins under ,
which a particular treatment should be applied with 0 to SU ninutee
A: Pain decreased, Sit ting toierariecre::ed. no fidee
special care or limitations. Thu therapist's examination
should include but not be limited to the patient's history, ,..
which would include information about the history 4)f the 1 2: Continue use of hot pack a above Wore Stretching
S0 AP n . 1.5'
current complaint, relevant medical history, and informa - a11 physoitcead
l aocxeunelt:11,.
Specific recommendations ff(o)rr
tion about current and expected level of activity and par- tionexeand
program. are
ticipation; a review of systems; and specific tests and cussed iii this book.
measures. The examination findings are then evaluated to 1.4
establish a diagnosis, prognosis, and plan of care, includ -
ing anticipated goals. Given an understanding of the
effects of different physical agents, the clinician can assess assistants
Physicaltherapists,cpuhpayntsiidocanialathtiheeernartapspyyaalasIsssiasistptapannlyttss,,poc ipnhythseiciarlus
ahthcrsieti;.,:tional therapists,
whether intervention using a physical agent may help the trainers, physiatrists, and p
patient progress toward the anticipated goals. The clini - agtntc
made it clear that j)/1
cian can then determine the treatment plan, including the e,
ideal physical agent(s) and intervention parameters if indi-
cated. The plan may be modified as indicated through agents. Physical therapists rc
ongoing reexamination and reevaluation. The sequence of and supervise physical therapy
the pycommonly
examination, evaluation, and intervention is followed in
the case studies described in Part 11 of this book, mentioned earlier, the APTA has ma
cal therapists use physical agents as part of a complete
rehabilitation program. Training in physical agents i s
DOCUMENTATION required part of physical therapist and physical therapisi
assistant education and licensure.
Documentation involves putting information into a
Occupational therapists, especially those involved in
patient's medical record, whether handwritten, dictated,
hand therapy, also commonly use physical agents. in a
or typed into a computer. The purposes of documentation
position statement published in 2003, the American Ocu-
include communicating the examination findings, evalu-
pational Therapy Association (AOTA) stated that "physical
ations, interventions, and plans to other health care pro-
agent modalities may be used by occupational therapists
fessionals; serving as a long-term record; and supporting
and occupational therapy assistants as an adjunct to or in
reimbursement for services provided.
preparation for intervention that ultimately enhances
Documentation of a patient encounter may follow any
engagement in occupation."'4 Physical therapy student
format but is usually done in the traditional SOAP note
receive training in physical agents as a required part of an
format to include the four components of subjective (S),
objective (0), assessment (A), and plan (P). academic physical therapy program, although cum.
tional therapists do not always receive this training. The
AOTA states that occupational therapists must be able
C Clinical Pearl 1.1 demonstrate competence to use physical agents in practice
Documentation generally follows the SOAP note but provide no explicit guidelines for how this compe-
format. tence should be demonstrated. As a result, several states
have instituted guidelines, licensing laws, specific educe
Within each component of the SOAP note, details vary tional requirements, and restrictions regarding physical
depending on the patient's condition, patient assessment, agent use by occupational therapists and occupation31
and the interventions applied. In general, when docu - therapist assistants. Occupational therapists and Gaup
menting the use of a physical agent, information should tional therapist assistants must adhere to the regulations
be included on the physical agent used; the area of the of the state(s) in which they practice.
0: Pre -treatment,: Pain level 7/10. Forward and siciebendino KOM The National Athletic Trainers' Association (NAT_I
restricted due to pain. states that training in therapeutic modalities is a recILlir'u
part of the curriculum to become a certified athletic trailer
at accredited programs' and continuing education i n
physical modalities is required to maintain athletic Wirer
Patients can learn about and apply physical agents I,
themselves, in addition to having them applied by the;
professionals. For example, agents, such as heat
compression, and TENS, can be safely applied at li
after the patient demonstrates proper use of the ages..
Patient education has several advantages,
including th
option for more prolonged and frequent applicatio n;
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well as decreased cost and increased convenience WI.
patient. Most importantly, it allows a patient t o tn'
active participant in achieving therapeutic goals .
introduction to Physical Agents and How They Are Used CHAPTER 1

G E N E R AL C O N T R AI N D I C AT I O N S or any other implanted electronic device (e.g., deep

A N D P R E C AU T I O N S F O R P H Y S I C AL brain stimulator, spinal cord stimulator) because the
energy produced by some of these agents may alter the
&GENT US.E._ - -
functioning of the device and thus adversely affect the patient.
Restrictions on the use of part icular treatment intervenbe
applied with special care or limitations.' The terms ditions IMPAIRED SENSATION AND MENTATION
under which a particular form of treatment should Impaired sensation and mentation are contraindications or
Contraindications are conditions under which a particular precautions for the use of many physical agents because the
treatment should not be applied, and precautions are con- end limit for the application of these agents is the
tions are categorized as contraindications or precautions. patient's report of how the intervention feels. For example,
absolute contraindications and relative contraindications for most thermal agents, the patient's report of the sensa-
can be used in place of contraindications and precautions, tion of heat as comfortable or painful is used as a guide to
respectively. limit the intensity of the treatment. If the patient cannot
Although the contraindications and precautions for the feel heat or pain because of impaired sensation or cannot
application of specific physical agents vary, a number of report this sensation accurately and consistently because of
conditions are contraindications or precautions for the use impaired mentation or other factors affecting the
of most physical agents. Therefore caution should be used ability to communicate, the application of the treatment
when considering application of a physical agent to a would not be safe and is therefore contraindicated.
patient with any of these conditions. In patients with such Although these conditions indicate the need for caution
conditions, the nature of the restriction, the nature and with the use of most physical agents, the specific contra-
distribution of the physiological effects of the physical indications and precautions for the agent being consid-
agent, and the distribution of the energy produced by the ered and the patient situation must be evaluated before
physical agent must be considered. an intervention may be used or should be rejected. For
for Application example, although the application of ultrasound to a preg-
nant patient is contraindicated in any area where the
of a Physical
ultrasound may reach the fetus, this physical agent may
Agent be applied to the distal extremities of a pregnant patient
Pregnancy because ultrasound penetration is limited to the area close
Malignancy to the applicator. In contrast, it is recommended that dia-
Pacemaker or other implanted electronic device thermy not be applied to any part of a pregnant patient
Impaired sensation because the electromagnetic radiation produced by this
Impaired mentation type of agent reaches areas distant from the applicator.
Specific contraindications and precautions, including
PREGNANCY questions to ask the patient and features to assess before
Pregnancy is generally a contraindication or precaution for the application of each physical agent, are provided in Part
the application of a physical agent if the energy produced by II of this book.
the agent or the physiological effects of the agent may reach
the fetus. These restrictions apply because the influences of ca-100SING A PHYSICAL AGENT . 4 1

these types of energy on fetal development are usually not Physical agents generally assist in rehabilitation by affect-
known and because fetal development is adversely affected ing inflammation and tissue healing, pain, muscle tone,
by many influences, some of which are subtle. or motion restrictions. Guidelines for intervention selec-
tion based on the direct effects of physical agents are pre-
MALIGNANCY sented here in narrative form and are summarized in
Malignancy is a contraindication or precaution for the
Tables 1-2 to 1-5. If the patient presents with more than
application of physical agents if the energy produced by
one problem and has numerous goals for treatment, a
the agent or the physiological effects of the agent may
limited number of the goals may need to be addressed at
reach malignant tissue or alter the circulation to such
any one time. It is generally recommended that the
tissue. Some physical agents are known to accelerate the primary problems and those most likely to respond to
growth, or metastasis, of malignant tissue. These effects
the available interventions be addressed first; however, the
are thought to result from increased circulation or altered
ideal intervention will facilitate progress in a number of
cellular function. Care must also be taken when consider-
areas (Fig. 1-2). For example, if a patient has knee pain
ing treating any area of the body that currently has or
caused by acute joint inflammation, treatment should first
previously had cancer cells because malignant tissue can
be directed at resolving the inflammation; however, the
metastasize and may therefore be
ideal intervention would also help to relieve pain. When
present in areas where it has not
the primary underlying problem, such as arthritis, cannot
yet been detected.
benefit directly from an intervention with a physical
agent, treatment with physical agents may still be used to
PACEMAKER OR OTHER IMPLANTED help alleviate the sequelae of these problems, such as pain
The use of physical agents is generally contraindicated
when the energy of the agent can reach a pacemaker

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a CHAPTER 1 Introduction fo Physical Agi'lgiS arni HOW MIT Are Used

cfit.cilve arid r (Mid hi. .11)01411 %drily, I lie iivirlutit

Highest/First Priority I
4' Oil

i i nerv e n i a n d c ( , ' , 1 ( 1 1 , I 1 / 1 / 1 1 ( ; 1 1 1 0 1 I , . 1 1 1 ( 1 l i i i '

availability r)I ri",otirr es should ;IN) to,(4,114,1,11.1A.11;1%44 selected
the physical agetitoo, thi r liaaic i;ar1 must then select the
1A. Primary IB. Problem Ideal treatment parameters iltid 1114';III1 of applt. cation and
underlying most likely to appropriately Integrate the
problem respond to agent(s) 1111(1 a complete rehabilitation program.
treatment Because physical agents have differing levels of ;mod.
ated risk, when all other factors are equal, 1
2. Treatments Thal lower level of risk should be selected. Physical agents with
address more than one a low level of associated risk have a potentially harmful
problem simultaneously dose that Is difficult to achieve or is much greater than the
effective therapeutic dose and have contraindications that
are easy to detect. In contrast, physical agents with a high
3. Symptomatic level of associated risk have an effective therapeutic dose
treatment only that is close to the potentially harmful close and have
contraindications that are difficult to detect. For example,
hot packs that are heated in hot water arid used with suf-
ficient insulation have a low associated risk because
owest/Last Priority although they can heat superficial tissues to a therapeutic
level in 15 to 2() minutes, they are unlikely to cause a burn
FIG 1-2 Prioritizing goals and effects of treatment. if applied for a longer period because they start to cool as
soon as they arc removed from the hot water. In contrast,
UV radiation has a high associated risk because a slight
Goals and effects of treatment increase in the treatment duration, for example, from 5 to
10 minutes, or using the same treatment duration for
patients with different skin sensitivity may change the
effect of the treatment from a therapeutic level to a severe
Contraindications and precautions
burn. Diathermy also has a high associated risk because it
preferentially heats metal, which may have been previ-
ously undetected, and can burn tissue that is near any
Evidence for physical agent use metal object(s) in the treatment field. It is generally recom-
mended that agents with higher associated risk be used
only if those with lower risks would not be as effective and
[Cost, convenience and availability
that special care be taken to minimize these risks when
these agents are used.
FJG 1-3 Attributes to be considered in the selection of physical EFFECTS OF_ P_HYSJ CAL _AO Ei\ILS
The application of physical agents primarily results in
modification of tissue inflammation and healing, relief of
ATTRIBUTES TO CONSIDER IN THE pain, alteration of collagen extensibility, or modification
of muscle tone. A brief review of these processes follows;
SELECTION OF PHYSICAL AGENTS more complete discussions of these processes are provided
Given the variety of available physical agents and the in Chapters 2 through 5. A brief discussion of physical
unique characteristics of each patient, it is helpful to have agents that modify each of these conditions is included
a systematic approach to the selection of physical agents here, and the chapters in Part 11 of this book cover each
so that the ideal physical agent is applied in each situation physical agent in detail.
(Fig. 1-3). The first consideration should be the goals of
the intervention and the physiological effects required to INFLAMMATION AND HEALING
reach these goals. If the patient has inflammation, pain, When tissue is damaged, it usually responds predictably.
motion restrictions, or problems with muscle tone, the use Inflammation is the first phase of recovery, followed by
the proliferation and maturation phases. Modifying this
of a physical agent may be appropriate. Looking at the
healing process can accelerate rehabilitation and reduce
effects of a particular physical agent on these conditions adverse effects, such as prolonged inflammation, pain,
is the next step. Having determined which physical agents and disuse. This in turn leads to improved patient func-
can promote progress toward the determined goals, the tion and more rapid achievement of therapeutic goals.
clinician should then decide which of the potentially Thermal agents modify inflammation and healing by
effective Interventions would be most appropriate for the changing the rates of circulation and chemical reactions.
particular patient and his or her current clinical presenta- Mechanical agents control motion and alter fluid flow,
tion. Attending to the rule of "do no harm," all contrain-
should ht. ildhc.1,41 to, II a 1,111111,11 Illeillrg h would I,,.

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Introduction le, Physical Agents and limy They Are Used CHAPTER 1

Physical Agents for Promoting Tissue Healing

Stage of Tissue Healing Goals of Treatment Effective Agents
Contraindicated Agents
Initial injury Prevent further injury or bleeding Static compression, cryotherapy Exercise
Intermittent traction
Motor-level ES
Clean open wound Hydrotherapy (immersion or Thermotherapy
Chronic inflammation
Prevent/decrease joint stiffness Thermotherapy
Motor ES
Control pain Thermotherapy Cryotherapy
Increase circulation Thermotherapy
Hydrotherapy (immersion or exercise)
Progress to proliferation stage Pulsed ultrasound Immobilization
Regain or maintain strength Motor ES
Water exercise
Regain or maintain flexibility Thermotherapy
Control scar tissue formation Brief ice massage
ES, Electrical stimulation; PSWD, pulsed shortwave diathermy.

and electromagnetic agents alter cell function, particularly for up to 2 years, both deposition and resorption of colla-
membrane permeability and transport. Many physical gen occur. The new tissue remodels itself to resemble the
agents affect inflammation and healing and, when appro- original tissue as closely as possible to best serve its origi-
priately applied, can accelerate progress, limit adverse con- nal function. During this phase, the healing tissue changes
sequences of the healing process, and optimize the final both in shape and structure to allow for optimal func-
patient outcome (see Table 1-2). However, when poorly tional recovery. The shape conforms more closely to the
selected or misapplied, physical agents may impair or original tissue, often decreasing in size from the prolifera-
potentially prevent complete healing. tion phase, and the structure becomes more organized.
During the inflammation phase of healing, which gen- Thus greater strength is achieved with no change in tissue
erally lasts for I to 6 days, the cells that remove debris and mass. Physical agents generally assist during the remodel-
limit bleeding enter the traumatized area. The inflamma- ing phase of healing by altering the balance of collagen
tory phase is characterized by heat, swelling, pain, deposition and resorption and improving the alignment
redness, and loss of function. The more quickly this phase of the new collagen fibers.
is completed and resolved, the more quickly healing can Physical Agents for Tissue Healing
proceed and the lower the probability of joint destruction,
The stage of tissue healing determines the goals of inter-
excessive pain, swelling, weakness, immobilization, and vention and the physical agents to be used. The following
loss of function. Physical agents generally assist during the discussion is summarized in Table 1-2.
inflammation phase by reducing circulation, reducing
pain, reducing enzyme activity rate, controlling motion,
and promoting progression to the proliferative phase Initial Injury. Immediately after an injury or trauma,
of healing. the goals of intervention are to prevent further injury or
During the proliferation phase, which generally starts bleeding and to clean away wound contaminants if the
within the first 3 days after injury and lasts for approxi- skin has been broken. Immobilization and support of the
mately 20 days, collagen is deposited in the damaged area injured area with a static compression device, such as an
to replace tissue that was destroyed by the trauma. In elastic wrap, a cast, or a brace, or reduction of stress on
addition, if necessary, myofibroblasts contract to acceler- the area by use of assistive devices, such as crutches, can
ate closure, and epithelial cells migrate to resurface the limit further injury and bleeding. Motion of the injured
wound. Physical agents generally assist during the prolif- area, whether active, electrically stimulated, or passive, is
eration phase of healing by increasing circulation and contraindicated at this stage because this can lead to
enzyme activity rate and promoting collagen deposition further tissue damage and bleeding. Cryotherapy con-
and progression to the remodeling phase of healing. tribute to the control of bleeding by limiting blood flow
During the maturation phase, which usually starts to the injured area through vasoconstriction and increased
approximately 9 days after the initial injury and can last

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10 CHAPTER 1 Introduction to Physical 'Wats and How They Are Used

blood viscosity.'" Thermotherapy is contraindicated at frequently associated with chronic inflammation. Select.
this early stage because it can increase bleeding at the site tion between thermotherapy and ES will generally depend
of injury by increasing blood flow or reopening vascular on the need for the additional benefits of each modalit y
lesions because of vasodilation.''' Hydrotherapy, involv- and the other selection factors discussed later. Circulation
ing immersion or nonimmersion techniques, can be used may be increased by the use of thermotherapy, ES, corn.
to cleanse the injured area if the skin has been broken and pression, water immersion or exercise, and possibly by the
the wound has become contaminated; however, because use of contrast baths. 19.4"4 A final goal of treatment at the
thermotherapy is contraindicated, only neutral warmth or chronic inflammatory phase of tissue healing is to promote
cooler water should be used.22 progression to the proliferation phase. Some studies indi-
cate that pulsed ultrasound, electrical currents, and elec-
tromagnetic fields may promote this transition.
Acute Inflammation. During the acute inflammatory
stage of healing, the goals of intervention are to control
pain, edema, bleeding, and the release and activity of Proliferation. Once the injured tissue moves beyond
inflammatory mediators and to facilitate progression to the inflammation stage to the proliferation stage o f
the proliferation stage. A number of physical agents, healing, the primary goals of intervention become con-
including cryotherapy, hydrotherapy, ES, and PSWD, can trolling scar tissue formation, ensuring adequate circula-
be used to control pain; however, the use of thermother- tion, maintaining strength and flexibility, and promoting
apy, intermittent traction, and motor-level ES is not appro- progression to the remodeling stage. Static compression
priate.23-27 Thermotherapy is not recommended because it garments can control superficial scar tissue formation, pro-
causes vasodilation, which may aggravate edema, and it moting enhanced cosmesis and reducing the severity and
increases the metabolic rate, which may increase the incidence of contractures." -" Adequate circulation is
inflammatory response. Intermittent traction and motor- required to provide oxygen and nutrients to the newly
level ES should be used with caution because the move- forming tissue. Circulation may be enhanced by the use
ment produced by these physical agents may cause further of thermotherapy, electrotherapy, compression, water
tissue irritation and thereby aggravate the inflammatory immersion or exercise, and possibly by the use of contrast
response. A number of physical agents, including cryo- baths. Although active exercise can increase or maintain
therapy, compression, sensory-level ES, PSWD, and con- strength and flexibility during the proliferation stage of
trast bath, may be used to control or reduce edema.28-31 healing, the addition of motor-level ES or water exercise
Cryotherapy and compression can also help to control may accelerate recovery and provide additional benefits.
bleeding; furthermore, cryotherapy will inhibit the activ- The water environment reduces loading and thus the
ity and release of inflammatory mediators. If healing is potential for trauma to weight-bearing structures and may
delayed because of the inhibition of inflammation, which thereby decrease the risk of regression to the inflammatory
may occur in the patient who is on high-dose catabolic stage.' The support provided by the water may also assist
corticosteroids, cryotherapy should not be used because it motion should the muscles be very weak, and water-based
may further impair the process of inflammation and thus exercise and thermotherapy may promote circulation and
potentially delay tissue healing. There is some evidence to help to maintain or increase flexibility.45"
indicate that pulsed ultrasound, laser light, and PSWD
may promote progression from the inflammation stage of
healing to the proliferation stage.32-34 Maturation. During the final stage of tissue healing,
maturation, the goals of intervention are to regain or
maintain strength and flexibility and to control scar tissue
Chronic Inflammation. If the inflammatory response formation. At this point in the healing process, the injured
persists and become chronic, the goals and thus the selec- tissues are approaching their final form. The focus of treat-
tion of interventions will change. During this stage of ment should therefore be on reversing any adverse effects
healing, the goals of treatment are to prevent or decrease of the earlier stages of healing, such as weakening of
joint stiffness, control pain, increase circulation, and muscles or loss of flexibility. Strengthening and stretching
promote progression to the proliferation stage. The most exercises most effectively address these problems. Strength-
effective interventions for reducing joint stiffness are ther- ening may be more effective with the addition of motor-
motherapy and motion.3536 Superficial structures, such as
level ES or water exercise, whereas stretching may be more
the skin and subcutaneous fascia, may be heated by super-
effective with the prior application of thermotherapy or
ficial heating agents, for example, hot packs or paraffin,
which is a waxy substance that can be warmed and used brief ice massage.'''' If the injury be is the type particu-
to coat the extremities for thermotherapy. However, to larly prone to excessive scar formation, such as a burn,
heat deeper structures, such as the shoulder or hip joint control of scar formation with compression garments
capsules, deep-heating agents, such as ultrasound or should be continued throughout the remodeling stage.
diathermy, must be used.'" Motion may be produced
by active exercise or ES, and motion can be combined PAIN
Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience
with heat by having the patient exercise in warm water or
associated with actual or threatened tissue damage. Pain
fluidotherapy. Thermotherapy and ES can be used to
relieve pain during the chronic inflammatory stage;
however, cryotherapy is generally not recommended
during this stage because it can increase the joint stiffness

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Introduction In Physical Agents and How They Are Used CHAPTER 1

usually protects individuals by preventing them (rain mended for the treatment of acute pain.' Cryotherapy is
performing activities that would cause tissue damage; thought to control acute pain by modulating transmission
however, it may also interfere with normal activities and at the spinal cord, by slowing or blocking nerve conduc-
cause functional limitation and disability. For example, tion, and by controlling inflammation and its associated
pain can interfere with sleep, work, or exercise. Relieving signs and symptoms.2' Sensory-level ES also relieves acute
pulpit can allow patients to participate more fully in normal pain by modulating transmission at the spinal cord or by
activities of daily living and may accelerate the initiation stimulating the release of endorphins, Briefly limiting
of an active rehabilitation program, thereby limiting the motion of a painful area with the aid of a static compres-
ativerse consequences of disuse and allowing more rapid sion device, an assistive device, or bed rest can prevent
progress toward the patient's functional goals. aggravation of the symptom or cause of acute pain. Very
Pain may be the result of an underlying pathology, such low-load, prolonged static traction may be used for a
as joint inflammation or pressure on a nerve, that is in the number of hours or even a few days to immobilize a symp-
process of resolution or by a pathology, such as a malig- tomatic spinal area temporarily, thereby relieving the
nancy, that is not expected to fully resolve. In either cir- spinal pain and inflammation that would be aggravated
cumstance, relieving pain may improve the patient's level by lumbar spine motion. 53,s" Excessive movement or
of activity and participation. The use of pain-relieving muscle contraction in the area of acute pain is generally
interventions, including physical agents, may be contin- contraindicated, thus exercise or motor-level ES of this
ued as long as pain persists and should be discontinued area should be avoided or restricted to a level that does
when the pain resolves. not exacerbate pain. As acute pain starts to resolve, con-
Physical agents can control pain by modifying pain trolled reactivation of the patient may accelerate pain
transmission or perception or by changing the underlying resolution. The water environment may be used to facili-
process causing the sensation. Physical agents may act by tate such activity.
modulating transmission at the spinal cord level, chang-
ing the rate of nerve conduction, or altering the central Chronic Pain. Pain that does not resolve in the normal
or peripheral release of neurotransmitters. Physical agents recovery time expected for an injury or disease is known
can change the processes that cause pain by modifying as chronic pain. 55 The goals of intervention for chronic
tissue inflammation and healing, altering collagen exten- pain shift from resolution of the underlying pathology
sibility, or modifying muscle tone. The processes of pain and control of symptoms to promotion of functi on,
perception and pain control are explained in greater detail enhancement of strength, and improvement of coping
in Chapter 3. skills. Although psychological interventions are the main-
stay of improving coping skills in patients with chronic
Physical Agents for Pain Modulation
The choice of a physical agent for treating pain depends pain, exercise should be used to regain strength and func-
on the type and etiology of the pain. Physical agents used tion. The water environment may be used to promote the
for pain are summarized in Table 1-3. development of the functional abilities and the capacity
of certain patients with chronic pain, and both motor -
level ES and water exercise may be used to increase muscle
Acute Pain. When treating acute pain, the goals of inter- strength in weak or deconditioned patients. Bed rest,
vention are to control the pain and any associated inflam- which can result in weakness and further reduce function,
mation and to prevent aggravation of the pain or its cause. should be discouraged in this patient population, and
Many physical agents, including sensory-level ES, cryo- because passive physical agent treatments provided by a
therapy, and laser light, can relieve or reduce the severity clinician can encourage dependence on the clinician
of acute pain.a' Thermotherapy may reduce the severity rather than improving the patient's own coping skills,
of acute pain; however, because acute pain is frequently such interventions are generally not recommended for the
associated with acute inflammation, which is aggravated treatment of chronic pain. The judicious use of pain -
by thermotherapy, thermotherapy is generally not recom- controlling physical agents by patients themselves may be

TABLE 1-3 Physical Agents for the Treatment of Pain

Goals of Treatment Effective A
Type of Pain eatsContraindicated __________________________
Acute Control pain Sensory ES, cryotherapy
Control inflammation Cryotherapy Therrnotherapy
Prevent aggravation of pain Immobilization Local exercise, motor ES
Low-load static traction
Referred Control pain
ES, cryotherapy, thermotherapy
Spinal radicular Decrease nerve root inflammation Traction
Decrease nerve root compression
Pain caused by malignancy Control pain ES, cryotherapy, superficial thermotherapy

ES, Electrical stimulation.

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CHAPTER 1 itttotheahm to Physic'', Agents am, How Thep vi re Used

indicated when this helps to impnwe the patient's ability whereas more aggressive stimulation, as can be provided
to cope with pain On a long-term basis; however, It is by very hot water, ice, or aggressive agitation of water or
fluidotherapy, will probably not be tolerated and may
iniportain that such interventions do not excessively aggravate this type of pain.
disrupt tl]c patient's functional activities. For example,
TENS ipplied by a patient to relieve or reduce his chronic
back win may promote function by allowing him to COLLAGEN EXTENSIBILITY AND
participate in work-related activities; however, a hot MOTION RESTRICTIONS
pack applied by the patient for 20 minutes every few Collagen is the main supportive protein of skin, tendon,
hours would Interfere with his ability to perform normal bone cartilage, and connective tissue.61 Tissues that contain
functional activities and would therefore not be collagen can become shortened as a result of being imm
bilized in a shortened position or being moved only
through a limited range of motion (ROM). Immobilization
Referred Pain. If the patient's pain Is referred to a mus- may result from disuse caused by debilitation or neural
culoskeietal area from an Internal organ or from another injury or may be caused by the application of an external
musculoskeletal area, physical agents may be used to device such as a cast, brace, or external fixator. Movement
control it; however, the source of the pain should also be may be limited by internal derangement, pain, weakness,
treated if possible. Paln-relieving physical agents, such as poor posture, or an external device. Shortening of muscles,
thermotherapy, cryotherapy, or ES, may control referred tendons, or joint capsules may cause restricted joint
pain and may be particularly beneficial if complete resolu- ROM.
tion of the problem is prolonged or cannot be achieved. To return soft tissue to its normal functional length and
For example, although surgery may be needed to fully
thereby allow full motion without damaging other struc-
relieve pain caused by endorrietriosis, if the disease does
not place the patient at risk, pain-controlling interven- tures, the collagen must be stretched. Collagen can be
tions, such as physical or pharmacological agents, may be stretched most effectively and safely when it is most
used to control the associated pain. extensible. Because the extensibility of collagen increases
itadicular pain in the extremities caused by spinal nerve in response to increased temperature, thermal agents are
root dysfunction may be effectively treated by the applica- frequently applied before soft tissue stretching to optimize
tion of spinal traction or by the use of physical agents that the stretching process (Fig. 1-4). The processes underlying
cause sensory stimulation of the involved dermatome, the development and treatment of motion restrictions are
such as thermotherapy, cryotherapy, or ES.'57 Spinal trac- discussed in detail in Chapter 5.
tion Is effective in such circumstances because it can
reduce nerve root compression, addressing the source of Physical Agents for the Treatment of
the pain, whereas sensory stimulation may modulate the Motion Restrictions
transmission of an at the spinal cord level?' Physical agents can be effective adjuncts to the treatment'
of motion restrictions caused by muscle weakness, pain,
soft tissue shortening, or a bony block; however, the
Pain Caused by Malignancy. The treatment of pain appropriate interventions for these different sources of
caused by malignancy may differ from the treatment of motion restriction vary (Table 1-4). When active motion
pain of other etiologies because particular care must be is restricted by muscle weakness, the treatment should be
taken to avoid using agents that can promote the growth aimed at increasing muscle strength. This can be achieved
or metastasis of malignant tissue. Because the growth of by repeated overload muscle contraction through active
some malignancies can be accelerated by increasing local
circulation, agents, sue!) as ultrasound and diathermy, FIG 1-4 Changes in collagen extensibility in response to changes in
which are known to increase deep tissue temperature and temperature.
circulation, should generally not be used in an area of
malignancy."'6" I lowever, in patients with end-stage malig-

nancies, paingelleving Interventions that can improve the

patient's quality of life but may adversely affect disease
progression may be used with the patient's informed

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. Complex regional

pain syndrome (CUPS) Is pain believed to involve overac-
tivation of the sympathetic nervous system. Physical
agents can h used to control the pain of CUPS with sym-
pathetic nervous system involvement. In general, low-
level sensory stimulation of the involved area, as can be TEMPERATURE

provided by neutral warmth, mild cold, water immersion,
or gentle agitation of fluidotherapy, may be effective,

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Phratai kolas um' how They Are Used - CHAPTER 1 13

TABLE 1-4 Physical Agents for the Treatment of Motion Restrictions

Source of Motion Restriction Goals of Treatment Effective A ents Contraindicated
Muscle weakness Increase muscle strength Water exercise, motor ES Immobilization
Pain Control pain
At rest and with motion
cryotherapy, thermotherapy, Exercise
With motion only Control pain PSWD, spinal traction
ES, cryotherapy, thermotherapy, PSWD Exercise into pain
Promote tissue healing
Soft tissue shortening Increase tissue extensibility Thermotherapy Prolonged cryotherapy
Increase tissue length Thermotherapy or brief ice massage and
Bony block Remove block None Stretching blocked joint
Compensate Exercise
Thermotherapy or brier ice massage
and stretch
ES, Electrical stimulation; PSWD, pulsed shortwave diathermy.

exercise and may be enhanced by exercise in water or

warm whirlpools, or 111 lamps, should be used when
motor-level ES. Water can provide support to allow weaker
motion is restricted by shortening of superficial tissues
muscles to move joints through greater range and can
such as the skin or subcutaneous fascia. Ultrasound should
provide resistance for stronger muscles to work against.
be used for treating small areas of deep tissue, whereas
Motor-level ES can provide preferential training of larger
diathermy is more appropriate for larger areas. Hot packs
muscle fibers, isolation of specific muscle contraction, and
can be used to treat large or small areas of superficial tissue
precise control of the timing and number of muscle con-
with little or moderate contouring. Paraffin or a whirlpool
tractions. When ROM is limited by muscle weakness alone,
is more appropriate for treating small areas with greater
rest and immobilization of the area are contraindicated
contouring. IR lamps can be used to heat large or small
because restricting the active use of weakened muscles will
areas, but they provide consistent heating only to rela-
further reduce their strength and thus exacerbate the exist-
tively flat surfaces. Because increasing tissue extensibility
ing motion restriction.
alone will not decrease soft tissue shortening, thermal
When motion is restricted by pain, treatment selection
agents must be used in conjunction with stretching tech-
will depend on whether the pain occurs at rest and with
niques to increase soft tissue length and reverse motion
all motion or if it occurs in response to active or passive
restrictions caused by soft tissue shortening. Brief forms of
motion only. When motion is restricted by pain that is
cryotherapy, such as brief ice massage or vapocootant
present at rest and with all motion, the first goal of treat-
sprays, may also be used before stretching to facilitate
ment is to reduce the severity of the pain. This can be
greater increases in muscle length by reducing the discom-
achieved, as previously described, with the use of ES, cryo-
fort of stretching; however, prolonged cryotherapy should
therapy, thermotherapy, or PSWD. If the pain and motion
not be used before stretching because cooling soft tissue
restriction are related to a compressive spinal dysfunction,
decreases its extensibility.",69
spinal traction may also be used to alleviate the pain and
When a bony block restricts motion, the goals of
promote increased motion. When pain restricts motion
intervention are to remove the block or to compensate
with active motion only, this indicates an injury of con-
for the loss of motion. Physical agents cannot remove a
tractile tissue, such as muscle or tendon, without complete
bony block, but they may help with compensation for
rupture." When active and passive motion are both
the loss of motion by facilitating increased motion at
restricted by pain, noncontractile tissue, such as ligament
other joints. Motion may be increased at other joints by
or meniscus, is involved. Physical agents may help restore
the judicious use of thermotherapy or brief cryotherapy
motion after an injury to contractile or noncontractile
with stretching, as described previously. Such treatment
tissue by promoting tissue healing or by controlling pain,
should be applied with caution to avoid causing injury,
as described previously.
hypermobility, or other dysfunctions in previously normal
When active and passive motion are restricted by soft
joints. Applying a stretching force to a joint that is blocked
tissue shortening or a bony block, the restriction is gener-
by a bony obstruction is not recommended because
ally not accompanied by pain. Soft tissue shortening may
this force will not increase ROM at that joint and may
be reversed by stretching, and thermal agents may be used
cause inflammation by traumatizing the intraarticular
before or in conjunction with stretching to increase soft
tissue extensibility and thus promote a safer, more effec-
tive stretch."95''7 The ideal thermal agent depends on the MUSCLE TONE
depth, size, and contouring of the tissue to be treated, Muscle tone is the underlying tension that serves as a
Deep-heating agents, such as ultrasound or diathermy, background for contraction in a muscle.' Muscle tone is
should be used when motion is restricted by shortening affected by neural and biomechanica] factors and can
of deep tissues, such as the shoulder joint capsule, whereas vary in response to a pathology, expected demand, pain,
superficial heating agents, such as hot packs, paraffin, and position.'' Abnormal muscle tone is usually the

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14 CHAPTER 1 Infroduction in Physical /louts am! Him , 1111), An, Used 1
result of nerve pathology or is a secondary sequela of pain lhitt ES of Itypertonic muscles improves pati ent function by
that results from injury of other tissues." Increasing the strength ink! voluntary:1:4Z of these
Central nervous system injury, as may occur with head muscles."
trauma or a stroke, can result in Increased or decreased
muscle tone in the affected area, whereas peripheral motor In patients with muscle hypotonicity, in which
nerve injury, as may occur with nerve compression, trac- of interventkm is to increase tone, quick icing or mot o r .
tion, or sectioning, can decrease muscle tone in the level ES of the Itypotoni muscle(%) may he benefi ci a l, in
affected area. For example, a patient who has had a stroke contrast, the application of heat to these muscles should
may have increased tone in the flexor muscles of the upper generally he avoided because this may further redu q,
extremity and the extensor muscles of the lower extremity muscle tone, In patients with fluctuating tone, where th e
on the same side, whereas a patient who has had a com- goal of treatment Is to normalize tone, functional LS may
pression injury to the radial nerve as it passes through the be applied to cause a muscle or muscles to contract at the
radial groove in the arm may have decreased tone in the appropriate time during functional activities. For example,
wrist and finger extensors. if a patient cannot maintain a functional grasp because he
Pain may cause an increase or decrease in muscle tone. cannot contract the wrist extensors while contracting the
Muscle tone may be increased in the muscles finger flexors, contraction of the wrist extensors could he
surrounding a painful injured area in order to splint the area produced by ES at the appropriate time during active
and limit motion, or tone in a painful area may be grasping.
decreased as a result of inhibition. Although protective
splinting may prevent further injury from excessive gut 1p...ENp_Er.13SED.RBAQ.TICE
activity, if prolonged, it can also impair circulation, If several agents may promote progress toward the goal s
retarding or preventing healing. Decreased muscle tone of treatment, are not contraindicated, and can he applied
as a result of painas occurs, for example, with the with the appropriate precautions, selection should be
reflexive hypotonicity (decreased muscle tone) of the based on evidence for or against the intervention,
knee extensors that causes buckling of the knee, when knee Evidence-based practice (EBP) is "the conscientious,
extension is painfulcan limit activity. explicit, and judicious use of current best evidence in
Physical agents can alter muscle tone either directly, by making decisions about the care of individual patients."7s,7'
altering nerve conduction, nerve sensitivity, or the biome- EBP is based on the application of the scientific method
chanical properties of muscle, or indirectly, by reducing to clinical practice. EBP requires that clinical practice deci-
pain or the underlying cause of the pain. Normalizing sions be guided by the best available relevant clinical
muscle tone will generally reduce functional limitations research data in conjunction with the clinician's experi-
and disability, allowing the individual to improve the ence and also takes into account what is known about the
performance of functional and therapeutic activities. pathophysiology of the patient's condition, the individual
Attempting to normalize muscle tone may also promote patient's values and preferences, and what is available in
better outcomes from passive treatment techniques such the clinical practice setting.
as passive mobilization or positioning. The processes The goal of EBP is to provide the best possible patient
underlying changes in muscle tone are discussed fully in care by assessing available research and applying it to each
Chapter 4. individual patient. Research studies vary in quality, from
the case report (an individual description of a particular
Physical Agents for Tone Abnormalities patient) to the randomized controlled trial (the gold stan-
Physical agents can temporarily modify muscle hyperto- dard of EBP in which bias is minimized through blinded,
nicity, hypotonicity, or fluctuating tone (Table 1-5). Hyper- randomized application of interventions and assessment
tonicity may be reduced directly by the application of of outcomes). To use EBP, the clinician needs to under-
neutral warmth or prolonged cryotherapy to the hyper- stand the differences between different types of research
tonic muscles, or it may be reduced indirectly by stimula- studies and the advantages and disadvantages of each. The
tion of antagonist muscle contraction with motor-level ES evidence used in EBP can be classified by factors such as
or quick icing. Stimulation of antagonist muscles indi- study design, types of subjects, nature of controls, outcome
rectly reduces hypertonicity because the stimulated activ- measures, and type of statistical analysis.
ity in these muscles causes reflex relaxation and tone Using EBP to guide the selection and application of
reduction in opposing muscles. 4 In the past, stimulation
physical agents as part of rehabilitation is often challeng -
of hypertonic muscles with motor-level ES or quick icing
was generally not recommended because ril concern 11 1.41 this
would further Increase muse k. tone; however, repo lh Indicate

Tone Abnormal'
Physical Agents for the Treatment of Tone Abnormalities
Goals of Treatment Effective A s ents
Hypertonicity Decrease tone Quick ice of agonist
Neutral warmth or prolonged cryotherapy to hypertonic muscles
Hypotonicity Increase tone Motor ES or quick ice of antagonists Thermotherapy
Normalize tone Quick ice or motor ES of agonists
Fluctuating tone
Functional ES
ES, Electrical stimulation.

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inirodfithon to Physical AVMs and flow Thep Are Used CHAPTER 1 15

mg,. It is often difficult to find studies of the highest

Databases of Systematic Reviews
quality because blinding patients and clinicians to treat- BOX 1-1 and Metaanalyses
mein may not be possible, (Hammes may he hard to
assess, subject numbers are often small, and there may be Cochrane Pataliask of Systuirtatic Reviews
Database of Abstracts. of Reviews of Effects (DARE)
many studies of varying quality in a given area. A good
eatient-Orienied Evidence that Matters (P(EMS)
initial approach to evaluating the quality of an individual
study is to examine the quality of the question being
asked. All well-built questions should have four readily
identifiable componentsthe patients, the intervention, Sources of Studies Answering
BOX 1-2
the comparison intervention, and the outcome. These Specific Clinical Questions
components can be readily remembered by the mnemonic
PICO. Cumulative Index
of Nursing and Allied Health Literature
P: Patient or PopulationThe question should apply to a specific PEDro (the Physiotherapy Evidence Database)
population (e.g., adults with low back pain, children with lower
extremity spasticity caused by spinal dysraphism).
1: InterventionThe intervention should be specific (e.g., speci-
fied exercises applied for a specified period of time at a specified
frequency). BOX 1-3 Sources of Clinical Practice
_________ Guidelines
C: Comparison intervention/measure The intervention (or

measure) should be compared to some current commonly used National Guideline Clearinghouse (NCG)
treatment (or gold standard measure) or to no intervention if no journal of the American Physical Therapy
intervention is usually provided. Association
0: OutcomeThe outcome should be defined as precisely as
possible, ideally using a clinically relevant, reliable, and validated
measure (e.g., walking speed, level of independence with activi- measures and for preventive or therapeutic interventions.
ties of daily living fADB1). For any of these, the specific types of patients or problems,
the nature of the intervention or test, the alternatives to
the intervention being evaluated, and the outcomes of the
When there are many studies in an area, published intervention for which these guidelines apply will be
systematic reviews, metaanadyses, and clinical stated. For example, there are guidelines for the treatment
practice guidelines may be helpful. These types of pub- of acute low back pain and for the treatment of pressure
lications use systematic methods to find and evaluate the ulcers that include evidence-based recommendations for
quality of studies and to derive composite conclusions and tests and measures, interventions, prevention, and prog-
recommendations from high-quality studies that address nosis. Often, such recommendations are classified according
a particular qiiestion. This may help the clinician keep to the strength of the evidence supporting them.
abreast of current evidence and is easier than searching for General clinical practice guidelines can be found at the
and evaluating individual studies. National Guideline Clearinghouse (NCG) web site, and
Systematic reviews answer clearly formulated questions clinical practice guidelines for the use of physical agents
by systematically searching for, assessing, and evaluating can be found at the Journal of the American Physical
literature from multiple sources. Systematic reviews are Therapy Association web site (Box 1 3). -

not all equal, and it is important to be aware of the quality EBP is becoming accepted practice and should be incor-
of the literature included and the methods used to evalu- porated into every patient's plan of care. However, it is
ate the literature. Metaanalyses are systematic reviews that important to remember that every study does not apply
use statistical analysis to integrate data from a number of to every patient, and research-supported interventions
independent studies.' The specialized databases of sys-
should not be applied without considering each patient's
tematic reviews and metaanalyses of medical and rehabili-
situation. EBP requires the careful combination of patient
tation-related research are the Cochrane Database of
preference, clinical circumstances, clinician's expertise,
Systematic Reviews, the Database of Abstracts of Reviews
of Effects (DARE), and Patient-Oriented Evidence that and research findings.
Matters (POEMS) (Box 1-1). For clinical questions not
included in these databases, individual studies may be USING PHYSICAL AGENTS IN
found in online libraries of medical and rehabilitation- COMBINATION WITH EACH OTHER
oriented publications (Box 1 2), such as Medline, the

Cumulative Index of Nursing and Allied Health Literature


(CINAHL), and PEDro (the Physiotherapy Evidence To promote progress toward the goals of intervention, a
Database). number of physical agents may be used simultaneously
Clinical practice guidelines are systematically devel- and sequentially, and generally, physical agents are applied
oped statements that attempt to interpret current research in conjunction with or during the same treatment session
to provide evidence-based guidelines to guide practitioner as other interventions. Interventions are generally corn-
and patient decisions about appropriate health care for
specific clinical circumstances.' Clinical practice guide-
lines give recommendations for diagnostic and prognostic

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16 CHAPTER 1 Introduction to Physical Agents and flow They Are Used

bined when they have similar effects or when they address superficial soft tissues in the area to which the tractic
different aspects of a common array of symptoms. For being applied.
example, splinting, ice, pulsed ultrasound, laser light, Physical agents are generally used more extensive.,
PSWD, and phonophoresis or iontophoresis may be during the initial rehabilitation sessions when inflarnm:
used during the acute inflammatory phase of healing. tion and pain control are a priority, with progression 0,
Splinting can limit further injury; ice may control pain time to more active or aggressive interventions, such
and limit circulation; pulsed ultrasound, laser light, and exercise or passive mobilization. Progression from on:
PSWD may promote progress to the proliferation stage of physical agent to another or from the use of a pinsiu:
agent to another intervention should he based on th:.
healing; and phonophoresis and iontophoresis may limit
progression of the patient's problem. For example,
the inflammatory response. During the proliferation stage hydra,
of healing, heat, motor-level ES, and exercise may all be therapy may be applied to cleanse and debride an orkri
used, and ice or other inflammation-controlling interven- wound during the initial treatment sessions; howevim , ,
tions may continue to be applied after activity to reduce er
once the wound is clean, this treatment should be stopp,
the risk of recurring inflammation. whereas the use of ES may be initiated to promote collagtz
Rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) are frequently deposition.
combined for the treatment of inflammation and edema
because these interventions can control inflammation and USING PHYSICAL AGENTS WITHIN
edema. Rest limits and prevents further injury, ice reduces DIFFERENT HEALTH CARE
circulation and inflammation, compression elevates aguvERY SYSTWS_ -szraiTaL.L.

hydrostatic pressure outside the blood vessels, and

elevation reduces hydrostatic pressure within the blood Clinicians may be called on to treat patients within differ.
vessels of the elevated area to decrease capillary filtration ent health care delivery systems in the US and abroad.
pressure at the arterial end and facilitate venous and These systems may vary in both the quantity and nature
lymphatic outflow from the limb.' ES may also be added of available health care resources. Some systems provide
to this combination to further control inflammation and high levels of resources, in the forms of skilled clinicians
the formation of edema by repelling negatively and costly equipment, and others do not. At the present
charged blood cells and ions associated with time, the health care delivery system in the US is undergo.
inflammation. ing change because of the need and desire to contain the
When the goal of intervention is to control pain, a growing costs of medical care. Utilizing available resources
number of physical agents may be used to impact different of both personnel and equipment in the most cost-
mechanisms of pain control. For example, cryotherapy or effective manner is being emphasized, resulting in new
thermotherapy may be used to modulate pain transmis- systems of reimbursement and increased monitoring of
sion at the spinal cord, whereas motor-level ES may be intervention outcomes.
used to modulate pain through stimulation of endorphin To improve the efficiency and efficacy of health care as
release. These physical agents may be combined with it relates to patient function, both health care providers
other pain-controlling interventions, such as medications, and those paying for treatment are attempting to assess
and may also be used in conjunction with treatments such functional outcome in response to different interventions.
as joint mobilization and dynamic stabilization exercise, These changes in reimbursement and outcome assessment
which are intended to address the underlying impairment are pressuring both service providers and third-party
causing the pain. payers to find the most cost-efficient means to provide
When the goal of intervention is to alter muscle tone, a rehabilitation services and to demonstrate the efficacy of
number of tone-modifying physical agents or other their interventions in improving patient function and
interventions may be applied during or before activity to reducing disability.
promote more normal movement and increase the efficacy Some payers are attempting to improve the cost-
of other aspects of treatment. For example, ice may be effectiveness of care by denying or reducing reimburse-
applied for 30 to 40 minutes to the leg of a patient with ment for certain physical agent treatments or by including-
hypertonicity of the ankle plantar flexors caused by a -the -cost of physical agent treatments in the reimburse5
stroke to control the hypertonicity of these muscles tem- ment for other services. For example, before January 199 '
porarily and thereby promote a more normal gait pattern many third-party payers provided a higher level of reim-
during gait training. Because practicing normal movement is bursement for treatments involving physical agents than-
thought to facilitate the recovery of more normal movement for other interventions; however, since that time, reim
patterns, such treatment may promote a superior outcome. bursement for these services has been reduced to reflect
When the goal of intervention is to reverse soft tissue the lower perceived level of skill required to apply these-
shortening, the application of thermal agents before or agents. In January 1997, Medicare changed its reimburse
during stretching or mobilization is recommended to ment schedule, bundling the payment for hot pack and-
promote relaxation and increase soft tissue extensibility, cold pack treatments into the payment for all other ser-
thereby increasing the efficacy and safety of the treatment. For vices rather than reimbursing separately for these treat
example, hot packs are often applied in conjunction with ments." This is because "hot and cold packs are easily se' e
mechanical traction to promote relaxation of the administered ... hot and cold packs, by their natur :
paraspinal muscles and increase the extensibility of the do not require the level of professional involvement as
do the other physical medicine and rehabilitatio n

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Introduction to Physical Agents and How They Are Used CHAPTER 1 17

modalities.... Although ... professional judgment is reaches the appropriate level of function and recovery.
involved in the use of hot and cold packs, much less judg- Used in this manner, physical agents can provide cost-
ment is demanded for them than for other modalities." effective care and involve the patient in promoting recovery
Nonetheless, this intervention may be indicated, and and achieving the goals of treatment.
patients may benefit from instruction in applying these
agents themselves at home. PEIAIP_TEELEtEVIEW

Although there is a growing emphasis on the cost- 1. Physical agents are materials or energy applied to
effectiveness of care, the goals of intervention continue to patients to assist in rehabilitation. Physical agents
be, as they always have been, to obtain the best outcome include heat, cold, water, pressure, sound, electromag-
for the patient within the constraints of the health care netic radiation, and electrical currents. These agents
delivery system. Although it has been suggested that the can be categorized as thermal (e.g., hot packs, cold
need for cost efficiency may eliminate the use of physical packs), mechanical (e.g., compression, traction), or
agents, this is not so. Rather, this requirement pushes the electromagnetic (e.g., lasers, ES, UV radiation). Some
clinician to find and use the most efficient ways to provide physical agents fall into more than one category. Water
those interventions that can be expected to help the and ultrasound, for example, are both thermal and
patient progress toward the goals of treatment. To use mechanical agents.
physical agents in this manner, the clinician must be able 2. Physical agents are components of a complete rehabili-
tation program. They should not be used as the sole
to assess the presenting problem and know when physical
intervention for a patient.
agents can be an effective component of treatment. The 3. The ICF model assesses the impact of a disease or condi-
clinician must also know when and how to use physical tion on a patient's function. It considers the effects of
agents most effectively and know which ones can be used a patient's health condition, environment, and per-
by patients to treat themselves (Box 1-4). To achieve the sonal circumstances on his or her impairments, activity
most cost-effective treatment, the clinician should opti- limitations, and participation restrictions. The ICI:
mize the use of the varied skill levels of different practi- model looks at the patient on three levels: body, whole
tioners and the use of home programs when appropriate. person, and social. Physical agents primarily affect the
In many cases, the licensed therapist may not need to patient at the body, or impairment, level. A complete
apply the physical agent but instead may assess and rehabilitation program should affect the patient at all
analyze the presenting clinical findings, determine the levels of functioning, disability, and health.
intervention plan, provide those aspects of care requiring 4. Selection of a physical agent is based on integrating
the skills of the licensed therapist, and then train the findings from the patient examination and evaluation
patient or supervised unlicensed personnel to apply those with the evidence regarding the effects (positive and
negative) of the available agent(s).
interventions requiring a lower level of skill. The therapist
5. Physical agents primarily affect inflammation and
can then reassess the patient regularly to determine
healing, pain, motion restrictions, and tone abnormali-
the effectiveness of the interventions provided and the ties. Knowledge of normal and abnormal physiology
patient's progress toward his or her goals, and adjust the in each of these areas can help in selection of a
plan of care accordingly. physical agent for a patient. These are discussed in
Cost efficiency may also be increased by providing Chapters 2 through 5. The specific effects of particular
intervention to groups of patients, such as group water physical agents are discussed in Chapters 6 through
exercise programs for patients recovering from total joint 14.
arthroplasty or for those with osteoarthritis. Such pro- 6. Contraindications are circumstances in which a physi-
grams may be designed to facilitate the transition to a cal agent should not be used. Precautions are circum-
community-based exercise program when the patient stances in which a physical agent should be used with
caution. There are general contraindications and pre-
cautions, such as pregnancy, malignancy, pacemaker,
Requirements for Cost-Effective and impaired sensation and mentation, to the applica-
BOX 1-4 Use of Physical Agents tion of physical agents. Specific contraindications and
Assess and analyze the presenting problem. precautions for each physical agent are discussed in
Know when physical agents can be an effective Chapters 6 through 14.
component of treatment. 7. EBP is the incorporation of research-based evidence
Know when and how to use physical agents must into a patient's rehabilitation plan. EBP integrates the
effectively. clinician's experience and judgment with the patient's
Know the skill level required for the application of preferences, the clinical situation, and the available
different physical agents.
evidence. Although EBP is ideally a rigorous approach
Optimize the use of the skill levels of different
practitioners. to patient care, many studies have not yet been done
Use home programs when appropriate. in the area of physical agents, partly because of the
Treat in groups when appropriate. difficulty in blinding patients and clinicians to
Reassess patients regularly to determine the efficacy the intervention being used. This book attempts to
of the treatments provided. include the most current and best-quality evidence
Adjust the plan of care according to the findings of available.

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18 CHAPTER 1 Introduction to Physical Agents and How They Are Used

8. Physical agents are commonly used in conjunction
with each other and with other interventions. They are PEDro (the Physiotherapy Evidence Database): PEDro is an
used in the clinic, at home, and in various health care
Australian website that was developed to give rapid access
delivery systems. Depending on the system, the selec-
tion and application of physical agents may vary. Reim-
bursement for applying physical agents is constantly in
flux, and the potential for conflict between minimizing
cost and maximizing benefit can make intervention bibliographical details and abstracts of randomized contrailweb site
selection difficult. trials, systematic reviews, and evidence-based clinical practice
guidelines in physiotherapy. Most trials on the database haw;
been rated for quality to help the reader quickly discriminate
between trials that are likely to be valid and interpretable and
those that are not.
World Health Organization (WHO): The WHO
Web Sites contains information on the ICF model including an interacti4
American Occupation Therapy Association (ROTA): US national section on the classifications. http://www.who.intieni.
professional society. The web site has a link to evidence-based
practice resources which is available only to members. www. Clinical practice guidelines: Systematically dev e i.
American Physical Therapy Association (APTA): US national oped statements that attempt to interpret current
professional organization. The web site includes current research to provide evidence-based guidelines to guide
research, physical therapy news, consumer information, career practitioner and patient decisions about appropriat e
advice, and access to back issues of Physical Therapy, the health care for specific clinical circumstances.
journal of the APTA. Collagen: A glycoprotein that provides the extracellular
Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine (CEBM): The CEBM web framework for all multicellular organisms.
site includes information for health care professionals on Complex regional pain syndrome (CM'S); Pai n
learning, practicing, and teaching EBM, as well as definitions of believed to involve sympathetic nervous system over.
terminology and calculators. activation; previously called reflex sympathetic dystro-
CINAHL: A database of studies from the nursing allied health phy and sympathetically maintained pain.
literature since 1982. Compression: The application of a mechanical force
Cochrane Collaboration: International not-for-profit that increases external pressure on a body part to reduce
organization that provides up-to-date information about the swelling, improve circulation, or modify scar tissue
effects of health care via systematic reviews and metaanalyses. formation. Contraindications: Conditions in which a particular
Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (DARE): The DARE treatment should not be applied; also called absolute
web site contains summaries of systematic reviews that have contraindications.
met strict quality criteria. Included reviews have to be about Contrast bath: Alternating immersion in hot and cold
the effects of interventions. Each summary also provides a water.
critical commentary on the quality of the review. The database Cryotherapy: The therapeutic use of cold.
covers a broad range of health and social care topics and can Diathermy: The application of shortwave or microwave
be used for answering questions about the effects of electromagnetic energy to produce heat within tissues,
interventions, as well as for developing guidelines and policy particularly deep tissues.
making. wvvw.yorkac.ukiinsticrdiindex.htm. Disability: The inability to perform activities required
Hooked on Evidence web site: An APTA database that for self-care, home, work, or community roles.
provides abstracts and summarizes articles related to specific Electrical stimulation (ES): The use of electrical
physical therapyrelated problems. current to induce muscle contraction (motor level) of
hookedonevidence/indexicfm. changes in sensation (sensory level).
Medline: An online database of 11 million citations and Electromagnetic agents: Physical agents that app])
abstracts from health and medical journals and other news energy to the patient in the form of electromagnetic
sources. vvww.ncbi.nlm.nih.govisitesientrez radiation or electrical current.
National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA): The NATA
Evidence-based practice (ERP): The conscientious,
professional membership association web site for certified explicit, and judicious use of current best evidence in
athletic trainers and others who support the athletic training making decisions about the care of individual
profession. The website allows members access to the journal patients.
of Athletic Training. Fluidotherapy: A dry heating agent that transfers heat
National Guideline Clearinghouse (NCG): The NCG is a by convection. It consists of a cabinet containing firmely
public resource for evidence-based clinical practice guidelines ground particles of cellulose through which heated al
and is an initiative of the Agency for Healthcare Research and is circulated.
Quality (AHRQ), US Department of Health and Human Functional limitations: Restrictions in the ability t
Services. The NGC was originally created by the AHRQ in perform an activity in an efficient, typically exv-
partnership with the American Medical Association and the or competent manner.
American Association of Health Plans (now America's Health Gate control theory of pain modulation: A theol l '
Insurance Plans [ANN). The web site allows searches by of pain control and modulation that states that pain
keyword, disease, intervention, measures, or organization.

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Introduction to Physical Agents and How They Are Used CHAPTER 1 19

modulated at the spinal cord level by inhibitory effects Pain: An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience
of nonnoxious afferent input. associated with actual or threatened tissue damage.
Guide to Physical Therapist Practice (the Guide): A Paraffin: A waxy substance that can be warmed and
book used by physical therapists to categorize patients used to coat the extremities for thermotherapy.
according to preferred practice patterns that include Pathology: Alteration of anatomy or physiology as a
typical findings and descriptive norms of types and result of disease or injury.
ranges of Interventions for patients In each pattern. Phonophoresis: The application of ultrasound with a
Hydrotherapy: The therapeutic use of water. topical drug to facilitate transdermal drug delivery.
Hypertonleity: 1 ligh tone or increased resistance to Physical agents: Energy and materials applied to
stretch compared with normal muscles. patients to assist in rehabilitation.
Hypotonicity: Low tone or decreased resistance to Precautions: Conditions in which a particular treat-
stretch compared with normal muscles. ment should be applied with special care or limitations;
ICF model: International Classification of Functioning, also called relative contraindications.
Disability and Health (ICF) model of disability and Proliferative phase: The second phase of healing after
health created by the WHO that views functioning and tissue damage in which damaged structures are rebuilt
disability as a complex interaction between the health and the wound is strengthened.
condition of the individual and contextual factors, Pulsed shortwave diathermy (PSWD): The thera-
including environmental and personal factors. ICF uses peutic use of intermittent shortwave radiation in which
categories of health conditions, body functions, activi- heat is not the mechanism of action.
ties, and participation to focus on abilities rather than Pulsed ultrasound: Intermittent delivery of ultrasound
limitations. during the treatment period.
ICIDH model: International Classification of Impair- Rehabilitation: Goal-oriented intervention designed to
ments, Disabilities and Handicaps (ICIDH) model of maximize independence in individuals who have com-
disability created by the WHO that was a precursor to promised function.
the ICF model and focused on disability rather than Systematic reviews: Reviews of studies that answer
ability. clearly formulated questions by systematically search-
Impairments: Alterations in anatomical, physiological, ing for, assessing, and evaluating literature from multi-
or psychological structures or functions as the result of ple sources.
an underlying pathology. Thermal agents: Physical agents that cause an increase
Indications: Conditions, under which a particular treat- or decrease in tissue temperature.
ment should be applied. Thermotherapy: The therapeutic application of heat.
Inflammation: The body's first response to tissue Traction: The application of a mechanical force to the
damage, characterized by heat, redness, swelling, pain, body in a way that separates, or attempts to separate,
and often loss of function. the joint surfaces and elongates the surrounding soft
Inflammatory phase: The first phase of healing after tissues.
tissue damage. Tra nscuta neo us electrica l nerv e sti mula tio n
Infrared (IR) radiation: Electromagnetic radiation (TENS): The application of electrical current through
in the IR range (wavelength range approximately 750 the skin to modulate pain.
to 1300 nm) that can be absorbed by matter and, Ultrasound: Sound with a frequency greater than 20,000
if of sufficient intensity, can cause an increase in cycles per second that is used as a physical agent to
temperature. produce thermal and nonthermal effects.
Iontophoresis: The transcutaneous delivery of ions into Ultraviolet (UV) radiation: Electromagnetic radiation
the body for therapeutic purpose using an electrical in the ultraviolet range (wavelength < 290 to 400 nm)
current. that lies between x-ray and visible light and has non-
Laser: The acronym for light amplification by stimulated thermal effects when absorbed through the skin.
emission of radiation is LASER; laser light is monochro-
matic, coherent, and directional.
Maturation phase: The final phase of healing after
tissue damage. During this phase scar tissue is modified 1. World Health Organization: Towards a common language for
functioning, disability and health: International Classification of
into its mature form. Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF), Geneva, 2002, WHO
Mechanical agents: Physical agents that apply force to 2. American Physical Therapy Association: Guide to physical therapist
increase or decrease pressure on the body. practice, ed 2, Alexandria, VA, 2001, The Association.
Metaanalyses: Systematic reviews that use statistical 3. Johnson EW: Back to water (or hydrotherapy), J Back Musculoskel
analysis to integrate data from a number of indepen- Med 4(4):ix, 1994.
dent studies. 4. Baker LL, McNeal DR, Benton LA, et al: Neuromuscular electrical
stimulation: a practical guide, ed 3, Downey, CA, 1993, Los Amigos
Modality/physical modality: Other terms for physi- Research br Education Institute.
cal agent. 5. Roberson WS: Digby's receipts, Ann Med Hist 7(3):216, 1925.
Muscle tone: The underlying tension in a muscle that 6. Melzack JD, Wall PD: Pain mechanisms: a new theory, Science
serves as a background for contraction. 150:971-979, 1965.
Nagi model: A linear model of disability in which a
pathology causes impairments, leading to functional
limitations that lead to disabilities. A precursor to the
ICF model.

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