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What is a Physical Therapist?
If you ask a person on the street or even another health care provider, you may get a variety of answers. You may hear a PT compared to personal trainer, massage therapist, or chiropractor. Some believe we are nurturing, others compare us to dungeon masters. Some believe we are still hot packs, ultrasound and massage. The truth is, we are a little of all of the above and much, much more. What we do is determined largely by the setting (orthopedics, pediatrics, neurological, wound care, etc.) and by the condition we are treating.
We are experts in human movement. We are skilled at assessing movement patterns ranging from ambulation to throwing to performing household tasks. Aberrant movement patterns can result in pain, loss of function, decreased efficiency or increased energy cost of movement. More detailed evaluation determines underlying issues such as joint or soft tissue restrictions, weakness, neurological dysfunction, poor motor control/coordination, balance issues, among others.
Having identified a dysfunction and any underlying causes, we can develop a plan to correct it. This may include manual therapy (joint or soft tissue mobilization, facilitation, inhibition), specific corrective exercise, body mechanics training, instruction in home programs, correction of postures, ergonomics advice, use of orthotics, taping or bracing. We do use physical modalities such as heat, ice, electrical stimulation, and ultrasound, but these are usually to support other techniques and not the primary treatment.
An excellent website that provides more detailed information about the profession can be found at the Move Forward website.
- Mike Olson, PT