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Differentiating Physical Therapists

Posted by Cody on 08/18/2015

Differentiating Physical Therapists

You may be thinking, 'What about the orthopedic physician?' They specialize in muscles, soft tissues, bones and joints. However, they do not assess and address active physical movement, such as walking, because that is not their area of expertise.

Some also tend to not assess how one area of the body relates to the other. For example, problems at the hip cause a lot of back pain. If you have back pain and go to a physician that is a back specialist, they are often going to evaluate the back to try to find a problem with your back. They may not relate your back pain to a hip problem, which becomes problematic, especially when treatments such as injections, medications, and surgery are brought to the table. Orthopedic physicians don’t assess and treat the human movement system through actual movement because it is the physical therapist’s area of expertise. This is the case with many physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and chiropractors.

I point out those professions because they are often the ones that most people will see first when they have pain or a problem. Another problem is that a lot of physicians, nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants, and chiropractors also do not know the role of a physical therapist or how the profession has evolved. There is plenty of good research available that proves physical therapy can help prevent surgeries, get rid of pain, and get people back to work and activities in which they love. This is not discounting any of those professionals or surgeries, all of which are necessary and have their place; however, so does physical therapy.

The majority of pains and injuries actually develop over time and are caused by the movement habits we perform on a daily basis. There are always signs a long time before the symptoms of pain and injuries develop. The signs lie within the movement system that is constantly adapting as you stand, walk, sit, run, lift, and bend. The repetitive movements that occur in your job and every day life shape your movement system.  Physical therapists find these signs and correct them to reduce your risk of pain and injury by improving your movement performance.  

The identity of physical therapy is no longer defined as purely reactive, but actually more of a proactive service! 

Being proactive does not insure prevention. I actually don’t think we can prevent pain and injury. I feel that every person will have pain and injury at some point in their life because we move. There are many factors involved in our movement and life, a lot of which are out of our control.  However, we can work to help avoid pain and injury by improving quality of movement.  And, at the onset of pain or injury we can manage it quickly to get you back to your previous activity level. The ultimate goal is to have you feeling good and happy. 

As with any profession there is inconsistency within physical therapy when it comes to skill level, and the definition of our role, and as a profession we still need to progress and evolve.  But there are a lot of physical therapists that are really good at what they do.  Physical therapists are the human movement system specialists.  We are not only associated with pain and injury, but with movement performance in all aspects of life. 


Shaun Logan. June 10, 2015. Physical therapy and the human movement system. Philly.com. Retrieved June 12, 2015. http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/sportsdoc/Physical-therapy-and-the-human-movement-system.html