Physical Therapy (Outpatient)

If you’re recovering from an illness or injury, your doctor may recommend outpatient physical therapy to improve your mobility. This means you’ll live at home and go to your local Essentia clinic or rehabilitation center to receive therapy. Our experienced physical therapists (PTs) will guide you through exercises designed to decrease pain and increase strength, flexibility, and balance. 

We work with patients of all ages and treat conditions ranging from chronic neck and back pain to sports and work-related injuries. Our PTs can teach you how to use mobility equipment like crutches, walkers, and wheelchairs. Our ultimate goal is to make everyday tasks easier so you can focus on the things in life that matter to you.

When to See a Physical Therapist

Please use physical therapy if you:

  • Have ongoing neck pain
  • Avoid bending and lifting because it hurts
  • Are less active than you want to be because of your neck pain
  • Want to be stronger, more active, and more flexible

Physical therapy can help you reduce low back pain without medications or surgery. Benefit from innovative techniques and advanced rehabilitative equipment.

Medical Insight: Back Pain Video Transcript


The Essentia Health logo appears, consisting of three leaves in a circle. Text, Essentia Health, Medical Insight.


A woman sits at a table, darkness outside the window. She holds her shoulders and moves her head around.

people will experience back pain at some point in their life. For some, it won't last long or be severe. But for others, it can be debilitating and chronic. Much

An older man kneels down near a sawhorse as a woman sitting on a stepstool looks at him. He struggles to stand up and the woman reaches to help him.

of the time, back pain is caused by a strain, sprain, or tear of a muscle or ligament in the back. Back pain can also come from the normal aging process of disks in your spine.

Animation of spine flashing gold in a drawing of a torso.

If you have back pain, it's important to see your doctor to pinpoint the cause. Your doctor may refer you to physical therapy for your back pain.

A therapist works with a woman doing movements.

Essentia Health physical therapist Ashley Gunkelman works with patients who've been referred to therapy to relieve their back pain. She says there are a few common myths regarding how to treat it. Myth one is the belief that rest is always best. ASHLEY GUNKELMAN:

Ashley Gunkelman, Essentia Health Physical Therapist, sitting in front of exercise machine.

And actually the best thing to do is start to get back to your normal activities and early movement. I mean, research tells us that we heal faster that way. And that prevents loss of strength. When we start becoming weaker, those issues tend to become more chronic. And then, we have bigger issues. TRACY BRIGGS: Myth two is that disk bulges, or herniations, require surgery. Gunkelman says, with the proper therapy and time, the back can actually often heal itself through exercise, using ice to decrease inflammation, and heat to relax tight muscles.

People doing push-ups, ice pack, heating pad.

ASHLEY GUNKELMAN: I always tell my patients that the heat and the ice isn't going to alleviate your symptoms, but it helps calm things down, relaxes you, and allows you to move a little bit more easily. TRACY BRIGGS: Myth three is that you need imaging to diagnose and treat back pain. Whether it's an MRI or a CT scan, Gunkelman says it's often not necessary.

Providers look at X-rays.

ASHLEY GUNKELMAN: There's so many different soft tissue in the back. You know, we're talking bones, ligaments, muscles. It's actually hard to specifically diagnose what's going on with that imaging. TRACY BRIGGS:

Tracy Briggs, Essentia Health Medical Insight Host, next to monitor showing man leaning forward with his hand on his back.

So while back pain is likely to happen to you sometime in your life, there are things you can do to manage it and improve your quality of life. With this Essentia Health "Medical Insight," I'm Tracy Briggs.

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Benefits of Physical Therapy

Physical therapy, or PT, uses gentle exercises, manual therapy, and other techniques to treat conditions that affect your physical function. PT may help you:

  • Improve your mobility, coordination, flexibility, and strength
  • Regain independence
  • Reduce pain
  • Recover after an injury, illness or surgery
  • Avoid the need for medication or surgery

As part of your care, your therapist may also conduct evaluations like functional capacity evaluations.

Specialized PT Services

At some Essentia locations, our physical therapists offer specialized PT services for the treatment of:

Orthopedic Rehabilitation PT

Orthopedic rehabilitation is a type of PT that’s used to treat conditions like:

  • Arthritis
  • Back, neck, jaw, joint, or muscle pain
  • Broken bones
  • Injuries or conditions that affect the shoulder, elbow, hip, knee, foot, or ankle
  • Sprains and strains
  • Sports and exercise injuries

Your doctor may recommend orthopedic rehabilitation to help you heal after a procedure like joint replacement or back, knee, neck, or shoulder surgery. Learn more about orthopedic care at Essentia.

SpineX™ Rehab Program

Restore spine strength and improve your ability to move with Essentia’s SpineX ™ Rehab Program. This eight-week program is available at locations in Northern Minnesota and Fargo, North Dakota. Two times a week you’ll meet with an Essentia professional for 90 minutes of stretching and strengthening.

If you're in Duluth, at completion, you’ll get a free three-month membership to an Essentia fitness center so you can continue working toward your goals.

Cost & Insurance

Many insurance providers cover spine rehabilitation programs. Check with your insurance provider about what’s covered under your plan.

Enroll in SpineX

Call for more information:

  • In Duluth, Minnesota, call 218-786-5410
  • In Hibbing, Minnesota, and the Iron Range, call 218-263-1028
  • In Fargo, North Dakota, call 701-364-3000

Physical Therapy for Children

Our physical therapists can help your child improve functional gross motor skills like rolling, sitting, walking, or skipping. A PT can also teach your child to use a wheelchair, walker, or other type of mobility equipment.

How to Prevent Falls

Falls can lead to severe injuries and our physical therapists can work with you to prevent falls by providing:

  • Assessing your risk factors, including certain medical conditions and medications
  • Testing your balance and ability to walk
  • Educating you about fall prevention
  • Helping make your home safer
  • Teaching you exercises to improve your strength and stability
  • Providing dizziness and balance care

How Important Is Physical Therapy?

Learn when physical therapy can get your body back to working the way it's supposed to.

How Important Is Physical Therapy? Video Transcript


The Essentia Health logo appears, consisting of three leaves in a circle. Text, Essentia Health. Doctor Quing Min Chen.

DR. QING-MIN CHEN: So my name is Qing-Min Chen. I'm am a orthopedic surgeon in Detroit Lakes, Essentia Health. I got into it, because the stuff we do is just pretty awesome. We got the best technology, the best toys, and I think our surgeries from a functional standpoint is just top notch. And the patients are really thankful. They get back to doing the things they love, and it's good to provide that kind of service.

Text, How important is physical therapy? Essentia Health

Now a physical therapy for me in my practice is, kind of, like my right hand. And I use physical therapy for almost everything. And if it's not emergent or something urgent or traumatic, usually I send to physical therapy. Because the majority of us, no matter how much we're working out, we're still somewhat sedentary. We're doing desk jobs or not. And even if you're a construction worker, you're not doing things necessarily that your body wants you to do at an everyday basis. And physical therapy gets you back to, kind of, what your body should be doing. So really physical therapy is everything, and it's as important, if not more important than our surgeries.

Text, When is physical therapy not enough? Essentia Health.

Physical therapy is great for the majority of things. But if any time there's something that's a structural problem, you have-- you broke your leg, you tore a tendon, you know those things exercise may not be enough for. Everyone knows their body, right. You know your own body much better than I know your body, obviously. So there are some pains that we, kind of, live with every day, and then there are some pain just aren't right. And I think if there is a little voice in your head that's saying, this is not right, you should come and see us. Because that changes the whole game, and it could really change how well you will do down the road.

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Reduce Back Pain with Core Strength

Rehabilitation: Reduce Back Pain with Core Strength Video Transcript

Text, How core strengthening helps with back pain. Essentia Health.

JACKIE BERGLUND: My name is Jackie Berglund. I'm a nurse practitioner in the pain clinic in Fargo at the 32nd Avenue clinic. I explain it to patients that the spine is really the only bone in your back that helps kind of support the front half and kind of the upper trunk of the body. So if the abdominal muscles of the core is strong, then those muscles are really helping take some of the workload off of your spine. You're engaging your abs and using your ab muscles, your core muscles more for doing simple movements, like bending over to tie your shoes, bending over to put your socks on, leaning over to pick something up. You use your core muscles, your strong core muscles doing that. So that takes more of the workload off of the low back.

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