How Physical Therapy Improves Mental Health

woman stretching


It is common knowledge that physical exercise is beneficial to both general health and mental well-being. During training, the body releases endorphins, which are associated with positivity. Also, serotonin levels increase, and we all know that it is widely popular as “the happiness hormone.”

While similar to general physical activity, physical therapy is not exactly the same. It mainly focuses on improving health and restoring function in patients. People usually connect it to injuries, but it is not the only thing physical therapy is about. There are many other areas where physical therapy is applicable.

To find out how physical therapy improves mental health, keep on reading.

The Benefits of Physical Activity

Mental health is not only the absence of mental illnesses and disorders. It includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Exercising can have a tremendous positive impact on our mental health due to several reasons. Research has shown that exercise can serve as a treatment for mild depression. In more severe cases, it is often recommended in addition to regular therapy. Physical activity not only improves our physical health but also alters our perception of ourselves. It influences our body image positively. Moreover, it provides us with coping mechanisms for stress. It provides us with a feeling of accomplishment, achievement, and success. All of that put together leads to improved quality of life. Of course, in terms of helping mental health, such internal feelings should be reinforced with external motivation in the form of reward and recognition of good work and effort.

Additionally, physical activity helps reduce stress, anxiety, and fatigue. It also has a positive effect on sleep quality and energy levels. Self-esteem and self-worth, along with better memory and general brain functionality, will also see improvement. Finally, physical activity will ultimately help with social interaction. With the enhanced self-image, leading to more confidence, and social circumstances in which people perform physical activities, it is no wonder that social interactions will improve.

The Role of Physical Therapists

Physical therapists determine the general health and fitness of patients through running tests. Upon obtained results, they can develop safe exercises suitable for the individual needs of patients. They provide help and guidance. Furthermore, they help create home exercise programs. During the Covid-19 pandemic, when social distancing is necessary, obtaining tools to help you exercise in your free time at home is much appreciated. Moreover, physical therapists teach about the supplements and medications that can impact the body’s response to physical exercise.

As for their role in improving mental health, the fact that World Physical Therapy Day focused on mental health in 2018 speaks for itself. Moreover, in 2011, physical therapists who work with mental health patients and in psychiatry applied to be recognized as a separate subcategory within the World Confederation of Physical Therapy.

Physical Therapy and Mental Health

The simplest example, when a person experiences prolonged pain, they eventually learn to accept it as an integral part of their life. In time, they forget what life without pain looked like. Consequently, the constant discomfort will cause the mood to wane. Consulting a professional can help you get back on your feet. They can provide you with non-pharmacological pain management techniques. In no time, you will feel yourself again.

Furthermore, people with mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, often have poor physical health. They usually suffer from cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and endocrine disorders. This is where physical therapists come in. They will also address physical issues in mental health patients that impede social interactions and stand in the way of recovery.

Physical therapists also determine mobility deficits and cooperate with a patient’s personal trainer to create the safest training programs based on their individual needs and goals. Such cooperation will result in tremendous improvements in patients’ quality of life with reduced mobility, such as those in wheelchairs. Together, they can develop routines that will allow patients to exercise even while sitting. Improved physical health will ultimately impact the patients’ mental state in the most positive way.

Finally, physical therapists help manage mobility issues in the elderly and development problems in children. The elderly are often fall victims, and after the incident, their mental health is in jeopardy due to immobility. It is primarily because the recovery process is slower. Even without incidents, many older adults lead a very inactive lifestyle, which can cause serious consequences. Physical therapists’ work can help patients feel much better about themselves, fast track recovery, and motivate further progress.


As already stated, physical activity, in general, is of immense help when it comes to overall physical health and mental well-being. Physical therapists’ role in this area is enormous. Be it through pain management, individually-tailored lifestyle advice, or specifically designed weight management programs, by addressing impaired body awareness issues, they help shape a better self-image and increase self-esteem. Moreover, through their work, they can help reduce disassociation often connected to poor mental health. It is the disconnection from thoughts, feelings, and sense of identity.

There is a connection between mental well-being and pain people report. As we have mentioned, physical activity can immeasurably improve the quality of life in mental health patients. Finally, poor mental health is one of the causes of disability, reduced productivity, and inadequate quality of life. Physical therapists are of incredible help in all these cases. They can contribute immensely to multidisciplinary and interprofessional care. Unfortunately, although studies have shown a strong correlation between physical exercise and mental well-being, implementing practices to address these issues in the health systems is rather slow.  This is, for the most part, owing to the fact that physical activity is not often considered a worthwhile strategy. Also, not all therapists realize that mental health is something they can help with. These are the two areas where a change in perception is necessary. After all, there is no health without mental health.

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