Throughout the years even prior to becoming a Physical Therapist, I have heard these questions: “What is physical therapy?” Or “What does a physical therapist do?” There are many misconceptions about it. So, let me tell you how it hit close to home.
My husband once asked me, “Hunny, I know what a physical therapist is but when people ask me what you do, I don’t know how to answer.” I gave him a sweet simple and short version of what I do for when people ask him. Now this is what I told him, “Most people seek therapy when they are injured or limited in some way and it is affecting their daily lives. As physical therapists We will examine an individual, find where they are limited and develop a treatment plan to prevent further disability and restore function.” My husband then proceeded to tell me how one of his friends asked, “Aren’t physical therapists personal trainers that do massage?”…. “Oh no!”
Let me start by saying, we are not personal trainers, we focus on returning individuals to function, to being independent and to take control of their physical capabilities. Whether its the 8 year old that wants to run and play after a tibial fracture, the athlete that wants to return to pitching after a rotator cuff tear, the grandmother that wants to be able to pickup her 4 month old grandson or the man that had a stroke and would simply like to get out of his wheelchair and get his own glass of water. So why the confusion? I am not sure, but I think it may be because as physical therapists exercise is just one of the many techniques and ways we get people strong.
So lets have a scenario:
A 65 year old man had a right total knee replacement 2 weeks ago, he comes in to therapy for the first time. The PT starts examining this patient as soon as he comes in through the door. This patient is unaware the PT is already observing how he walks, how he moves and his facial expressions. The therapist then gets his medical history including date of surgery, what his pain level is, what are some of his limitations at home such as difficulty walking up/down stairs or getting in/out of bath tub. Once that is done the therapist will physically examine the right leg’s range of motion, strength, incision healing, edema, reflexes and sensation compared to the left leg. The therapist will work with the patient to prioritize individual goals, the PT will then write a plan of care which includes treatment and education for the patient on skin/incision care, DVT prevention, swelling/pain management and the importance of a home exercise program — in other words the patient gets homework!
I hope this helps people get a better grasp of what physical therapy is and what we do. If you would like to read some more about physical therapy and what we do, please checkout the following APTA links http://www.apta.org/