Monthly Archives: December 2012

Physical Therapist Uses Personal Experience to Help People Fighting Cancer

Atlanta-based physical therapist Angelo Rizzo was diagnosed with Leukemia in 1999 – coincidentally less than a year after he transitioned his orthopedic and sports physical therapy practice to one specializing in helping people combat the side effects of cancer treatment.

Now in complete remission, he continues to apply his personal experience and clinical skills to help others beat their diagnoses and improve their quality of life.

Rizzo first noticed the underutilization of physical therapy treatment in helping people fight cancer while volunteering with the National Osteoporosis Foundation. During his tenure, he was astounded by the high number of cancer survivors who were subsequently diagnosed with osteoporosis – a bone weakening disease that leads to an increased risk of fracture and a common side effect of chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

When Rizzo was diagnosed, he experienced firsthand the aftermath of cancer treatment – including extreme fatigue and weakness – that many of his patients had described.

During his first few months of treatment, even Rizzo avoided exercise completely due to his lack of energy. But he finally realized it was time to practice what he had always preached to his patients – exercise and stay active.

Just a few short weeks later, he began to feel the benefits of exercise during chemotherapy and the difference it was making in his recovery.

Today, Rizzo taps into his experience to encourage and motivate his patients as they work to regain their strength.

“Many cancer patients don’t know that physical therapy is an option to help combat their treatment side effects,” Rizzo says. “The most common feedback I get back from my patients after working with them is that they wished their doctor had told them about this earlier.”

More than 65% of Rizzo’s referrals come from oncologists, radiation oncologists and cancer surgeons. He helps patients fight mental and physical fatigue during and after treatment through strength, balance and monitored endurance training, as well as using exercise guidelines to enhance physical and mental performance.

He teaches them that the severe fatigue, weakness, swelling, and pain they struggle with are manageable, and that the right skills and training from an oncology physical therapist can help restore and improve their daily activities – making a world of difference for both the patient and care giver.

Very few practices currently focus specifically on using physical therapy to combat the symptoms of cancer treatment, but the need for this service is becoming increasingly recognizable among physicians and their patients.

And while physicians and medicine focus on treating cancer at the cellular level, Rizzo reminds his patients and the oncology community that physical therapy helps heal the mind, body and soul at the functional level.

He emphasizes that early intervention and detection of physical impairments are key to functional restoration and recovery.

Interested in sharing your story or learning more about a campaign dedicated to spotlighting members within the physical therapy community? Please send your name and contact information to – we want to hear about your most rewarding moments as a physical therapist.



Demand for Physical Therapists on the Rise, After Healthcare Reform and Aging Baby Boomers

Physical therapists are preparing for a potential employment “boom.”

New analyst project physical therapy will be one of the top growing occupations in America – and Georgia – suggesting a positive employment outlook for future and current physical therapists.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, physical therapy jobs are projected to increase nationally 39 percent by 2020 – more than double the average for all other occupations.

CNNMoney also recently released its annual “100 Best Jobs in America” report, and physical therapy was featured on the list for the fourth year in a row, landing at 8.

These numbers are also reflected in the Georgia job market, where there are 4,310 active physical therapist licensees and 1,236 physical therapist assistant licensees, according to Georgia Secretary of State’s Board of Physical Therapy.

But with Georgia’s unemployment rate hovering around 8.7 percent, why the sudden surge in demand for physical therapists?

Continued enactment of the Obama administration’s Patient Protection and Affordable Healthcare Act, passed in 2010, is one of several factors contributing to the rising role of the physical therapy occupation.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that following full implementation of healthcare reform, an additional 31 million individuals will be able to obtain health care services.  As the number Americans with health insurance increases, the demand for therapy services will also grow.

In addition, a provision in the Affordable Care Act requires Americans to have access to a core package of health care services, known as the “essential health benefits.”

These “essential health benefits” must include items and services within, at a minimum, the following 10 categories:

  1. Ambulatory patient services
  2. Emergency services
  3. Hospitalization
  4. Maternity and newborn care
  5. Mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment
  6. Prescription drugs
  7. Rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices
  8. Laboratory services
  9. Preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management
  10. Pediatric services, including oral and vision care

The “rehabilitative and habilitative services” essential health benefit falls directly into the scope of practice for physical therapists, who are highly trained to provide the best evidence-based treatment and rehabilitation for movement disorders.

Although many provisions of health care reform went into effect immediately upon passage, many regulations for other portions are still being developed and will not go into effect until January 1, 2014.

And while that transition will take place over the next two years, another contributing factor will simultaneously occur that further contributes to the employment growth – an aging baby boomer population.

On a national level, the American Orthopaedic Association anticipates that by 2020, 16.3 percent of the U.S. population will be 65 or older, which is double the current number.

And on a regional level, data from the 2010 U.S. Census indicates that by 2030, one in five metro Atlantans will be older than 60, increasing the vital role physical therapists will play in elderly patient care, recovery, rehabilitation and habilitation.

Physical therapists routinely develop customized programs for elderly patients to reduce the risk of injury, while enhancing balance and increasing long-term mobilization.

Fortunately, there is a natural interest in pursuing physical therapy as a career to help fill the rapidly growing number of available employment opportunities and patient demand.

Data from the American Physical Therapy Association indicates that between the 2004 and 2009 academic years, the number of applicants for physical therapist education programs increased, on average, by 110 percent and actual enrollments increased by 45.3 percent.

As the need for physical therapists steadily grows, the number of trained physical therapists will need to simultaneously increase to meet rising demand.

While there is much uncertainty in the evolving health care world, it is clear that physical therapists will play an important role in the delivery of the health care system both nationally and locally.