What is Physical Therapy?


February 13, 2016

The American Physical Therapy Association defines physical therapy as:

[…] a dynamic profession with an established theoretical and scientific base and widespread clinical applications in the restoration, maintenance, and promotion of optimal physical function. Physical therapists are health care professionals who help individuals maintain, restore, and improve movement, activity, and functioning, thereby enabling optimal performance and enhancing health, well-being, and quality of life. Their services prevent, minimize, or eliminate impairments of body functions and structures, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. Physical therapy is provided for individuals of all ages who have or may develop impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions related to (1) conditions of the musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, cardiovascular, pulmonary, and/or integumentary systems or (2) the negative effects attributable to unique personal and environmental factors as they relate to human performance.

So what does that mean to the patients and to the community that we serve?  We are often asked ‘What do you do?’ Or ‘Can you treat this?’  Many times we’ve heard from our patients ‘I’m here just to get some stretches to fix my pain.’ And although we’re very glad they came to us for help, most of the time ‘just some stretches’ will not fix the problem.  Physical therapy offers much more than the appropriate way to stretch or strengthen.  It takes many forms, and has many specialties, but at its core, we identify impairments within the body, and correct them using a variety of techniques.  We aim to improve our patient’s functioning and quality of life.

I like to think of myself and my colleagues as postural and movement specialist.  When a patient comes to us with their symptoms, it is our job to discover which structure(s) in the body are at fault and how to correct them. Many times, it is more than one structure or faulty movement pattern that is causing the symptoms, and we have to restore normal function to each impaired system before symptoms are relieved. We not only look at the musculoskeletal system (muscles, ligaments, tendons, joints, etc.), but we assess the neuromuscular system, which controls how each individual’s body reacts and moves in space, the cardiopulmonary system, which controls how oxygen and blood supply contribute to an injury and healing, and the integumentary system, which is how our skin and scar tissue can affect our bodies.

Physical therapists have a large knowledge base about the body and its systems.  We take our time performing comprehensive evaluations to determine the root cause of the symptoms, and develop an individualized program for each patient to return them to their optimal function.  If you have an ailment, and are unsure if a physical therapist can help, I encourage you to call and inquire.  If we do not feel it is within our scope of practice, we will do our best to direct you to the proper discipline for help.