A physical therapist uses many different techniques to heal an injury or treat a condition. These techniques are often called modalities. All of the modalities are chosen for a specific desired effect—like pain or inflammation reduction.

Exercise is one of the most commonly used modalities in physical therapy. It is non-invasive and can strengthen a patient’s muscles, increase flexibility and range of motion. Beyond the clinic setting, exercise is prescribed to do at home as well.

Ultrasound is another therapeutic modality using ultrasound waves that penetrate the patient’s soft tissues to relax the muscles. This modality is non-invasive and is often paired with exercise and stretching for the treatment of many conditions.

Electrical stimulation, or e-stim, uses electrodes strategically placed on a person’s body to stimulate muscle contraction or deliver pain-relieving medication using low-level electrical currents. Iontophoresis is a type of e-stim specifically used for medicating a patient through his or her skin.

You might have heard of heat or cold therapy. Both modalities are commonly used and can reduce inflammation and ease muscle spasms. Massage is another common modality used for pain relief and improved circulation.
A physical therapist might also use a whirlpool, i.e., hydrotherapy, to reduce inflammation, and relax muscles. When a patient is faced with mobility issues, an assistive device (like a cane, or walker) might also be used as a modality to help the patient recover with reduced stress on his or her joints, and more stability. A therapist might use only one modality—or all of the above—for treating a variety of conditions and injuries.