Sandy Willoughby PT, CSCS, CAPP-OB
Years ago a fellow health care provider described Physical Therapy as “passive” when we were talking about our approach to patient care. He was not a Physical Therapist and his statement showed me that he didn’t know much about the profession or the art of how we practice. As a new Physical Therapist at the time, I was shocked by his views because one of the reasons I went into the field was to be constantly moving and active. Yet his perception was that patients came in and we only applied modalities , such as heat, ice, ultrasound or electrical stimulation to name a few.
Physical Therapists use modalities to assist the healing process and allow us to work more on restoring a patient’s ability to move and function. However, the bulk of what a Physical Therapist does involves motion – quality and quantity. This is where the special skills of a Physical Therapist come in. Our treatment approach is based on how a patient presents, not on their diagnosis. During the evaluation the therapist takes a thorough history of the patient’s problem and functional deficits. Then the therapist assesses the patient’s alignment, movement, strength, flexibility and performs special tests to determine the best approach to getting the patient better.
We take all of the information from the evaluation and form a Treatment Plan. Treatment begins with patient education and this continues with every treatment session until the patient is “back in action” (our Sports Med slogan). This requires active participation from the patient to follow through on our recommended changes to their lifestyle because what happens the 23 hours a day outside of physical therapy matters as much as what we accomplish in an hour! Without exception, all patients end up with some sort of “home program” that includes exercise. But some patient’s also need hands on manual techniques or modalities that Physical Therapists can provide and this is the only part of physical therapy that is “passive”.
So exercise IS medicine in a sense; physical therapy IS a natural approach to wellness. Physical Therapists are teachers that deeply believe that we can make a difference in our patients' lives by teaching them how to make life long changes for their health by changing how they move and use their body and how to keep it fit.