There are six broad categories of physical therapy equipment: furniture, exercise equipment, massage equipment, stability devices, topical pain relief and educational material. Office equipment such as chairs, desks, shelving units, computers and exam and massage tables are all part of physical therapy furniture. Exercise equipment ranges anywhere from professional-grade exercise machines to portable manual equipment, such as rollers, resisstance bands and handheld weights. Stability devices, including athletic tape and gait belts, help hold joints and muscles in the correct position. Topical pain relief products consist of cold, dry or moist heat therapy as well as analgesic creams to ease the pain. Physical therapists use educational materials, such as anatomy posters and models to help patients understand their injuries and how their prescribed treatments will work.
Specific equipment is essential for every physical therapist. Necessary equipment includes exam and massage tables, mat platforms, scales, tape measures, goniometers, athletic tape and other support devices. Exam tables, massage tables, and mat platforms give a raised area for the patient to sit or lie down on and help with injury diagnosis. Therapists use scales, tape measures and goniometers to track fundamental changes in patients’ weight, size and mobility. Athletics tape is useful for rehabilitation. It can also help to improve athletic performance by creating support to limit movement or bring attention to the injury to prevent people from repeating actions that worsen it. Support devices, such as braces and wraps, help to stabilize the area and hold it in the correct position during rehabilitation.
There are three main types of advanced physical therapy exercise equipment for diagnoses, exercise and supportive devices. Selecting advanced exercise equipment will vary depending on the injuries the therapist wants to focus on treating. Diagnostic equipment can include movable exam tables, ultrasounds and handheld equipment that trigger muscle pain and pressure points. Therapists working with sports injuries may require advanced cardio and strength equipment, such as treadmills, upper body exercisers, pulley systems, weights and power benches. Therapists working with patients rehabilitating from injuries or stroke may need to invest in more passive exercise and supportive equipment such as continuous motion devices, parallel bars and unweighing systems to help patients gradually increase their range of motion.
When purchasing exercise machines for rehabilitation, it’s important to review the inbuilt program speeds as well as the visual and audio feedback options. It may be necessary to select equipment with larger screens for patients with vision difficulties or clear audio feedback for those hard of hearing. Another consideration when buying the best physical therapy equipment for your practice is the level and cost of equipment maintenance. How often does the equipment need to be maintained? Can this be done in-house or is a professional required?
The specific type of tables a physical therapist needs will depend on their therapy style and the type of patients they wish to treat. Exam tables feature a variety of styles from basic frames with cushioning to tables with adjustable back, leg and height positions. Bariatric treatment tables are wider, sturdily built and can accommodate up to 1,000 lbs. in weight. As people tend to be on massage tables and chiropractic tables longer than exam tables, they are more cushioned and have more movable sections.
Specialized physical therapy equipment accommodates a broader range of motion. Other features include slower speeds, larger electronic feedback screens, different handle grips and more support options compared to their standard exercise equipment equivalents. Some machines, such as continuous passive motion machines, are specifically designed for rehabilitation as the movement of these devices move the joint or muscle while the patient exerts little effort.
Cardiovascular fitness is essential for overall health. Cardio exercise equipment gets the body moving in different ways to help patients build their cardiovascular health and endurance. Rehab treadmills are wider and slower than standard treadmills. Treadmills focus on lower body exercises such as walking and running. Elliptical trainer and stationary bicycles also help with lower body movements but without the impact on joints found from walking and running on flat surfaces.
Building strength in the core helps with balance and supports the movement of joints, ligaments and other muscles. Balance training helps keep the body steady during the movement for everyday tasks and athletic activities. Portable manual equipment, such as balance stones, aerobic pads and exercise balls, such as included in the CanDo® products for physical therapy range, build strength and balance. Choose from the following equipment to assist patients in building strength and stability throughout their bodies:
- Parallel bars help support the patient’s weight during walking and lower body rehabilitation exercises.
- Power racks, weight benches and physical therapy weights are used with varying techniques to build all-round body strength.
- Upper-body exerciser machines target the upper body to build strength.
- Training stairs are versatile for both strength building and cardiovascular exercises.
- Unweighing stations aid in the physical manipulation of joints without patients being required to put weight on the area.
- Power plate’s fast vibrations stimulate the muscles to contract at a much higher rate than average to build stability, balance, coordination and strength.
After an injury, range of motion may be limited and patients require assistance to recover. Cable column and pulley systems are expandable and adjustable with different attachments, making them a useful multi-use item to help patients with building range of motion. Shuttle balances are helpful for shoulder and core stabilization exercises. Medicine balls and rebounding balls with plyometric sleds or rebounders help build strength, conditioning and resilience.
Other than exercise equipment, there are many machines that physical therapists use. For example, ultrasounds are helpful for both therapeutic and diagnostic purposes to get an image of injuries to tendons, ligaments and muscles. Therapeutic ultrasounds can help increase blood flow to specific areas for faster healing, help warm and relax tissues as well as reduce the appearance of scars. Electrical muscle stimulators or EMS machines are commonly used in physical therapy to help strengthen muscles by triggering muscles to contract.
Alongside physical therapy exercises, massage can help improve mobility by relaxing muscles and reducing stiffness. Massage also helps stimulate circulation, which brings blood flow carrying oxygen and nutrients to the injured area and vital organs. Combining pressure points with massage can help to relieve patients' pain. Masseuses use massage tools to help apply pressure in a manner that is comfortable for the patients.
There is a wide range of massage tools, including massage tables, vibrating massage devices, foam rollers, handheld rollers and tools.
Massage tables give the patient a comfortable place to rest while the masseur works on them. The height of massage tables can be adjusted to suit the height of the masseuse for comfort.
Vibrating massage devices help to release muscle tension through pulses of vibration rather than physical pressure.
Foam rollers are long tubes of varying widths made from foam that patients roll on using their body weight to massage that area of the body.
Handheld rollers and tools help the masseuse target specific areas and pressure points while conserving energy for themselves and reducing the pressure on their own hands, wrists and arms.
There is a wide range of physical therapy equipment. Before purchasing, have a clear idea of what you're looking for, what it will be used for and how often it will be used. This helps you find the best physical therapy equipment for your clinic. Before expanding the inventory of equipment, consider the following questions.
Each type of equipment helps a specific type or group of injuries. To find the best equipment for your clinic, start by writing a list of the types of injuries your clinic focuses on. Knowing the injuries you wish to treat helps narrow down the equipment you need. The best equipment for your clinic are apparatuses that get regularly used and enhance treatment success with clients. Ask yourself, is your clinic focused on helping patients manage chronic pain, avoid surgery, rehabilitate, or assess weak areas to prevent future injuries? Once you have your answer, look for equipment that targets your area of specialization.
Part of selecting the best equipment involves finding equipment that meets your needs as a therapist. Therapists who make house calls should opt for easily transportable equipment. If patients always come to the clinic, portability may not be essential. Consider how often the equipment will be in use. Regularly used items may need to be left in place to save time setting them up.
Some equipment, such as professional exercise equipment and tables, are large and require permanent floor space. Measure small office areas to determine available space before purchasing large items. Some equipment, such as parallel bars and pulley systems, can be wall-mounted and folded away when not in use to save room. Multi-use equipment, such as compact, functional training centers, may be suitable to help patients work a range of body parts.
While price should not be the main focus when choosing the best equipment, it's still important to consider when building your practice. First, identify the equipment you need to purchase, then analyze your budget. Once needs and budget are determined, review the options in your price range to find the best equipment for you.
Before investing in equipment, read product reviews. Look for reviews by professionals in your industry when seeking the best equipment as your peers will use this equipment in the same way your clinic will. Analyzing the pros and cons of each device before you buy will help you make the right choice.
Considering warranties is vital when buying large or small equipment items that are essential for your daily practice. Ask yourself, if this piece of equipment broke, could it be easily replaced or fixed and will downtime affect how you treat patients? The cost of cheaper no-name brands without warranties may be suitable if your clinic can continue treating patients without that item. For essential items, take more consideration of the brand’s customer service reputation, warranty offers and your personal experiences from working with that brand in the past.
Choosing the best physical therapy equipment for your practice depends on your treatment style and the patients you wish to specialize in treating. When planning what equipment to purchase, start with a list of the essentials, such as office equipment, massage, and physical therapy equipment. Next, formulate a list of specialized therapy and exercise equipment and tools. Both these essential and specialized physical therapy equipment and tools will enhance your treatment capabilities to help you grow your practice.