“I have been referred to see a Physical Therapist but I don’t actually know what they do.”
“Wait, you treat THAT too?”
I have heard these comments from patients, friends, and family for the past 16 years so I figured it was time to explain why physical therapy is so hard to define.
1. There are lots of different things that we do based on the treatment settings where we work. In PT school, we have the opportunity to learn about the diverse environments that make up the profession. There are Pediatric Physical Therapists who work in schools to provide help with children who have difficulty with gross motor skills (walking, sitting, stairs, etc). While hospital based Physical Therapists treat a range of patients from those who have just had surgery to people who have suffered from debilitating diseases. Some Physical Therapists work in Rehabilitation Centers with people who have recovered from their life threatening disease but are not strong enough to return to their home. Physical Therapists work in burn units, debriding tissue and helping to restore normal healthy skin for burn victims – they are the true heroes of our profession. The list goes on and on but I hope this gives you an idea of why our profession is so hard to define!
2. If you have been referred by your doctor/friend/trainer to go to see a Physical Therapist, you will go to an outpatient Physical Therapy Clinic. These can be stand -alone clinics (such as Physical Therapy for EveryBODY) or may be embedded within a medical clinic or even hospital. Each of these facilities treats patients who are able to come into the clinic and receive services. But, the treatment you receive at each facility is based on their focus.
3. Orthopedic or outpatient physical therapy clinics are usually focused around one of the following themes. 1) The research based clinics follow the research that states teaching patients to exercise leads to the best long term outcomes. Physical therapy research has rapidly expanded in the 16 years I have been in practice and the one fact that remains a constant is that getting people moving will limit their pain and dysfunction as they age. 2) The manual therapy clinics focus on improving how the muscles, joints, ligaments, fascia, and other tissues move in order to improve each patient’s quality of life. The definition of manual therapy is muscle manipulation, joint mobilization, and joint manipulation.
4. Physical Therapists with different experiences and training treat in different ways. Over 16 years of practice, I have seen and performed a wide variety of treatments as my knowledge and skills have grown. So, if you have tried physical therapy before and it didn’t work for you, I encourage you to research a physical therapist in your area who has the skill set you are looking for. If I can help in any way, please feel free to contact me!