Depression is one of the most common complications for patients with chronic illnesses like heart disease, multiple sclerosis and diabetes. A chronic illness often introduces major life changes that restrict a person’s mobility, independence and ability to enjoy and participate in regular activities. A physical therapist is trained to identify and address symptoms of depression in patients with these life-altering diseases.
According to an Archives of Internal Medicine review article, exercise can reduce depressive symptoms in patients with chronic illnesses. Based on the authors’ findings, the article concluded that “patients with depressive symptoms indicative of mild-to-moderate depression and for whom exercise training improves function-related outcomes achieve the largest antidepressant effects.”
For patients living with depression and other mental health disorders, physical therapists can address physical limitations and help to establish a regular exercise routine that ensures continued benefits. Science shows that the human brain releases endorphins during exercise that help reduce pain and make living with a chronic illness more manageable. As physical activity increases, patients often see self-esteem, energy levels and body image follow an upward trajectory as well.
Physical therapists rely on outcome-based evidence to identify the root cause of a patient’s dysfunction, pain or comorbidities such as depression. The rehabilitation professionals are trained to help patients improve strength, flexibility and mobility through individualized exercise plans. When symptoms of depression are present, patients are unable to achieve their desired results without the help of healthcare providers like physical therapists.
A focus on being more physically active is important for patients with chronic illnesses. If left untreated, depression can increase the patient’s risk of developing other conditions such as dementia and cardiovascular disease. Physical therapists are trained to teach patients how to incorporate exercises and lifestyle changes that prevent injuries and improve overall health and well-being.
Dr. Theresa Marko, PT, DPT, MSPT, CEIS, is a physical therapist & owner at