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The Role of Your Physical Therapist

The Role of Your Physical TherapistIn the world of healthcare, there is a large population of providers who work collectively as a team to deliver necessary services to our community members. The goal of this article by Ryan Hartman (pictured), Clinic Director at Star Physical Therapy based in Donelson, TN, is to inform the reader about the world of Physical Therapy, including information regarding our educational background, knowledge and skill set, and role within the healthcare system.

“What do you do all day at work?” “My doctor sent me here, but I don’t know how this is going to help.” “I thought only chiropractors see people with back pain.” “I didn’t believe in therapy before going through this.” “We have a family member who has trouble walking and started falling recently. Who helps with that?” “I heard all therapists like to cause pain.” “Will I break a sweat during my sessions?” “Don’t you just give me exercises that I can do at home?” “If this doesn’t help my pain, are you the one who will order the MRI or prescribe me more medication?”

I believe that I can speak for all Physical Therapists (PTs) by saying that we have all heard these types of questions and statements from patients, family, friends, and acquaintances who have never experienced Physical Therapy either personally or indirectly through a family member.

Physical Therapists are experts in analyzing and optimizing human movement by way of extensive education including anatomy, physiology, and biomechanics related to the function of the musculoskeletal and neuromuscular systems. Depending on when they graduated from Physical Therapy school, your PT may have a Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctorate degree.

What do we NOT do? 

Physical Therapists do not order imaging studies such as x-rays, MRIs, CT scans, EMGs, etc. We do not prescribe or change prescribed medications.

What DO we do? 

Physical Therapists evaluate and treat movement limitations related to musculoskeletal or neuromuscular impairments. Our patients tell us via conversation, and show us via the examination, which aspects of their movement are limited to the extent that their ability to function in day-to-day life has been altered. PTs provide care for a wide range of individuals from newborns to our most experienced community members. PTs work in a variety of settings including outpatient clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, schools, patient homes, industrial facilities, and universities.

What makes
Physical Therapy effective? 

In the outpatient Physical Therapy world, we work in a setting where we are able to spend an extended amount of time with individuals in each session to meet the goals for their care. STAR Physical Therapy clinics schedule on the hour, facilitating at least 60 minutes for the initial evaluation and subsequent treatment sessions. 60 minutes affords the PT and the patient ample time to build a positive relationship where constant conversation is combined with thorough treatment and reassessment. Treatment strategies may include manual therapy techniques utilized to improve specific joint mobility, exercises targeting improved quality of motor control, dry needling to decrease muscle guarding and pain, balance activities to improve safety in daily mobility, and functional activities specific to an individual’s daily life.

What is the goal
of the Physical Therapist? 

Whether we are the first person to mobilize a person’s newly post-operative shoulder, or we are providing a recommendation for tai chi or yoga for a retiree who wishes to improve their balance and safety, our goal as the PT is to understand each person’s individual goals, then utilize our knowledge and resources to make the best decision for that person. Sometimes the best decision is to hold further therapy and refer someone to the physician due to a change in medical status. The best decision may include obtaining a list of someone’s job duties to develop a plan that gets them back to absolute full function at work. The role of the Physical Therapist in the healthcare team is to optimize movement and overall quality of life within our communities.


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