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Physical Therapy

What Is Physical Therapy? Definition, Purpose, and Uses

October 18th, 2021 | 6 min. read

What Is Physical Therapy? Definition, Purpose, and Uses
Chris Brandt

Chris Brandt

Licensed Physical Therapist, PT, DPT // Director of Marketing and Sales // Certified Dry Needling Specialist // EW Motion Therapy Homewood

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After work, like many other Americans, you head to the gym. As you’re doing your usual weight-lifting routine, you feel a muscle spasm in your shoulder, not in a good way. 

As you stand there nursing the site of the pain, all sorts of thoughts begin to rush through your mind: Should you put heat or ice on it? Do you need a sling or a brace? How bad is this injury? What should I do first to relieve the pain? As you ponder these questions, the frustration sets in, and you realize how much this pain will impact your daily routine, especially your workouts.

You do not know all these answers right now, but you do know that you need some kind of help figuring it out.

At EW Motion Therapy, we see patients every day who need help figuring out how to feel better, and our skilled therapists can make a treatment plan that fits your needs. Physical therapy may not suit everyone, but we want to make sure you find the right solution.

In this article, we will discuss what physical therapy is, who physical therapists are, and what makes physical therapy unique. Then you can decide for yourself if physical therapy is the right approach to make you feel better. 

How should we define physical therapy?

Physical therapy is a medical treatment used to restore functional movements, such as standing, walking, and moving different body parts. Physical therapy can be an effective treatment for medical conditions or injuries resulting in pain, movement dysfunction, or limited mobility. For example, if you like to run and start having knee pain, a physical therapist can evaluate your movement and develop a treatment plan to help you run pain-free. 


Physical therapy can be both corrective and preventative. Physical therapists can correct functional movement imbalances in clients with injuries or medical conditions, and they can also implement techniques to prevent injury and improve performance. 


Medical professionals known as physical therapists, physiotherapists, or PTs carry out this treatment. These specialists educate, administer individualized treatments, and prescribe exercises for each patient to improve mobility, strength, and function. 


Wanting to try physical therapy for yourself? Click to download our 20 Physical Therapy Questions, Answered to learn more.

Download our Physical Therapy Q&A Here!


What do physical therapists do?


Becoming a physical therapist is no easy journey. Any hopeful must earn a bachelor’s degree in a related field, then complete a three-year (on average) doctorate program to receive their doctorate of physical therapy (DPT). To earn a license to practice in their state, they must also pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) and any additional state licensing guidelines. 


Physical therapists can diagnose patients based on their movement patterns and tailor their treatment plans to their health issues. PTs are not only knowledgeable in how a body moves, but also how different body systems integrate with movements. They understand how the cardiovascular, neurological, and endocrine systems can all affect movement. They will most likely examine more of the patient’s body than their problem areas to determine if the site of pain is causing more widespread issues. For example, if you come in with knee pain, a great physical therapist will not only evaluate your knee but your hip and ankle as well.


While PTs cannot prescribe surgery or medication like a primary care physician, they specialize in diagnosing based on movement and their knowledge of proper muscle and joint function. 


Physical therapists are distinct from occupational therapists (OTs). OTs focus on activities of daily living, which may require fine motor skills, such as getting dressed and brushing teeth. PTs focus on functional movements like rolling, standing, walking, and balance, as well as transitional movements like sit-to-stand. The ultimate goal of a PT is to teach patients how to prevent injury, manage pain, and restore functional movements. 


What makes physical therapy unique?

A unique element of physical therapy is the potential for a client-therapist connection. Perhaps there is no other medical professional that gets to spend as much one-on-one time with patients as PTs get to do. This presents the opportunity to get to know a client beyond their injury or condition. 


Injuries are never just physical - there is usually a mental health component involved. If you are an athlete with an ACL tear, you may wonder whether you can ever play your sport again. If you lose your mobility as you age, you may wonder how you will ever be able to return to the activities you loved. The best PTs recognize this fact, and they meet patients where they are to guide them through their anxieties as they recover. The emotional bond can even improve the quality of the prescribed physical therapy treatment. If a patient trusts their therapist, and if the therapist encourages a patient as they go, the patient will most likely see a more successful outcome. 


A great therapist can adjust a patient’s treatment plan to their lifestyle, including diet, sleep, and daily routine. Their ultimate goal is to get you moving throughout your day. For example, if a patient works at a desk all day, the therapist will often prescribe postural exercises to counter the negative effects of sitting, and they may recommend you standing up and walking around multiple times throughout the workday. The best treatment plans not only involve your workouts but your daily activities, so you can work toward a healthier lifestyle. 


Is physical therapy right for me?

Physical therapy recognizes that every body and mind has its own unique potential. It is all about restoring functional mobility, maintaining independence, and getting clients back to the activities they love. Your therapist will form a connection with you as you go through your treatment, and the emotional support will help you feel better faster. 


This is the ultimate goal of physical therapy: improving the human experience by improving movement. We have written an article on how physical therapy works to help you understand the science behind why it works for so many different people.


This is our goal at EW Motion Therapy, and we want to help you find a therapist who will change your life for the better. If this treatment sounds right for your injury or condition, and you want to learn more about getting physical therapy in Birmingham or Tuscaloosa, fill out the Request an Appointment form on our website, and someone from our staff will contact you within 48 hours with your next steps. 


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