Sounds fairly simple huh?  Unfortunately, there is a disconnect between the public, other medical professionals, and physical therapists.  As I mentioned previously, physical therapy is often confused with other types of care provided by athletic trainers, personal trainers, and massage therapists among others.  I hope I can shed some light on the subject. 

Part of the problem is that the words “physical therapy” have been used as an umbrella phrase for far to long and by too many people.  Many providers, including chiropractors and athletic trainers, advertise as providing physical therapy.  Let’s set the record straight now – physical therapy is provided by licensed Physical Therapists or a supervised Physical Therapy Assistant only. 

Physical therapy consists of the evaluation/examination, assessment, and treatment of many conditions including orthopaedic, neurological, cardiopulmonary, and pediatric conditions.  The APTA’s website says it this way:

“Physical therapists help people with orthopedic conditions such as low back pain or osteoporosis; joint and soft tissue injuries such as fractures and dislocations; neurologic conditions such as stroke, traumatic brain injury, or Parkinson’s disease; connective tissue injuries such as burns or wounds; cardiopulmonary and circulatory conditions such as congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; and workplace injuries including repetitive stress disorders and sports injuries.”

So, how do Physical Therapists help?  We are extensively trained at the master’s and doctoral levels to evaluate (including the screening for medical conditions outside the scope of Physical Therapy) and treat patients with many “tools”.  These tools include manual therapy techniques (mobilization/manipulation), stretching, therapeutic exercise, and modalities (electrical stimulation, ultrasound, hot/cold).  Other providers who claim to provide physical therapy are trained or educated anywhere near the level to provide this care. 

In most states, consumers or patients have the direct access to Physical Therapists.  This means that you can walk off the street with back pain and go directly to your Physical Therapists instead of playing the waiting game by seeing your family physician, then the orthopaedic specialist ($$$), and finally – your Physical Therapist. 

 We in no way believe we replace these individuals.  In fact, we seek to work interdependently with them and YOU to provide you the best care we can.  We want to give you a choice.  You can feel comfortable seeing your Physical Therapist and know that they are capable of screening out serious medical problems.  If these are suspected, you can expect and feel confident that the Physical Therapist will refer you directly to the most appropriate provider.

 We can’t fix or treat everything, but we are the best first-line intervention for common musculoskeletal conditions. 

 If you have questions, please comment or contact us at: physicaltherapyblog@gmail.com

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