Physical Therapy Will Play Key Role in Nancy Reagan's Recovery

ALEXANDRIA, VA, October 27, 2008 — Maintaining physical activity following a fall, similar to the one taken recently by former First Lady Nancy Reagan, 87, is crucial to a full recovery, says the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).

"For older individuals who have fallen and experienced a fracture, it is imperative for physical therapy to begin during their hospital stay," says APTA spokesperson and physical therapist Kathleen Kline Mangione, PT, PhD, GCS, a professor of physical therapy at Arcadia University in Glenside, PA. "Older adults who fracture their pelvis and sacrum (tailbone), as did Mrs. Reagan, will initially have physical therapy every day during their hospital stay, primarily to maintain mobility and function. Following a typical hospital stay of three days, the patient may then be moved to a sub-acute care facility, where their physical therapy can continue for several weeks, and eventually to their home with home-health physical therapy.

Mangione notes that during her recovery period, Mrs. Reagan will most likely work with physical therapists on muscle strengthening exercises, improving range of motion, working on sit-to-stand positions, and gait training, with the end goal of her regaining her independence.

"Like any patient, Mrs. Reagan's prior level of function will determine future functioning," says Mangione. "That is, if an individual has kept active and maintains good nutrition then their recovery from a fall will be that much quicker. If all goes as planned then Mrs. Reagan should make a full recovery in 6-8 weeks."

In similar cases of falls, physical therapists will determine the cause of the fall, including accessing balance, muscle weakness, awareness of body position sense, and the surrounding environment. Once a cause has been determined, a physical therapist will design an individualized program of exercises and activities with an emphasis on strength, flexibility, balance and proper gait. If necessary, the physical therapist will refer the patient to other medical professionals, such as an internist or neurologist, observes Mangione.

To improve balance and reduce the risk of another fall, physical therapists may recommend stability and strengthening exercises; a formal exercise program; a walking regimen that includes balance components such as changes in surfaces/terrains, distance, and elevations; Tai Chi (which emphasizes balance, weight shifting, coordination, and postural training); and aquatics classes geared toward balance and coordination.

Physical therapists are health care professionals who diagnose and manage individuals of all ages, from newborns to elders, who have medical problems or other health-related conditions that limit their abilities to move and perform functional activities in their daily lives. Physical therapists examine each individual and develop a plan of care using treatment techniques to promote the ability to move, reduce pain, restore function, and prevent disability. Physical therapists also work with individuals to prevent the loss of mobility by developing fitness- and wellness-oriented programs for healthier and more active lifestyles.

APTA ( is a national organization, representing physical therapists, physical therapist assistants, and students of physical therapy nationwide. Its purpose is to improve the health and quality of life of individuals in society by advancing physical therapy practice. Consumers can visit to find a physical therapist in their area, as well as for physical therapy news and information.