Physical Therapist: What do we really do?

February 5th, 2013
Physical Therapist: What do we really do?

Many are unsure how a physical therapist differs from other healthcare providers. A recent study revealed that the majority of people think that physical therapists’ help patients after serious accidents, injuries and other health issue. Others think a referral is needed before seeing a physical therapist.

The truth is a physical therapist performs multiple specialized functions different from other healthcare professionals. Direct access laws in most states make it possible to directly consult a physical therapist without a referral from the primary care physician.

While it is true that a physical therapist can help patients after serious health problems, he/she can also help in promoting overall health and well-being. A physical therapist does not create a generalized treatment plan that fits all, but does a careful assessment of an individual patient’s current health status and customizes a program tailor made for the patient.

At the same time, a physical therapist can be part of a multi-disciplinary team that will refer patients to other health care professional if he/she finds any health issue that requires specialized attention from other experts in the medical field.

Physicians usually take the medication approach when it comes to dealing with patients’ health issues, while a physical therapist does it from a more physical/mechanical/holistic standpoint. Physical therapy providers look at the human body as a whole instead of the individual contributing factors of the problem. This approach however does not mean losing focus on treating the specific problem. A physical therapist will always refer patients to physicians for medication if their approach cannot resolve the problem.

A physical therapist uses a variety of techniques to treat patients and improve their general well-being. Some of these are passive modalities such as range of motion, joint mobilizations, ultrasound, traction, electrical stimulation and various cold and heat therapies. Neuromuscular re-education is also a technique that helps in the improvement of balance, posture and coordination of affected patients.

Aquatic therapy is a form of therapy performed in water aimed at improving blood circulation, relaxing muscles and for pain relief.  A physical therapist often uses hydrotherapy for patients with cognitive and physical disabilities.

Exercise of some kind is nearly always used by a physical therapist in the patient’s plan of treatment and care. It may include balance, muscle re-training, stretching and strengthening exercises.  More often than not, the physical therapist will teach patients home exercise programs to promote overall health and avoid future problems.

Throughout the entire treatment process, a physical therapist will use evidence-based methods. This is to make sure that the intervention chosen is the most effective and the most appropriate.  This ensures that the needs of each patient are met and value is provided for each encounter.