Who Are Physical Therapists, What Do We Do, and How Are We Unique in the Medical Landscape?

Posted on Posted in All Posts, Let's Get Technical

Hello out there, Thrive loyalists.  To those of you who spend much time inside our clinic, you might find this blog topic odd given your familiarity with physical therapy.  That said, I have many times been asked, by persons I’m in process of evaluating, what IS physical therapy?  I grew up with a physical therapist (PT) as a mom, so for me the idea that one doesn’t know what we do is foreign.  I suppose I’ve always had proximity to the profession.  It has come to my attention that, while I’ve been in and around PT gyms forever, that’s not true for many.  So, I’m writing this to give some clarity to those out there who wonder what exactly we are qualified to do and how we fit into the wellness and rehabilitation realm.

physical therapy cervicalWHO ARE PHYSICAL THERAPISTS?

PTs are, by and large, persons with a passion for PEOPLE, science, movement theory, rehabilitation, and often times exercise.  All PTs graduated in the past 10 years have clinical doctorates (DPTs), making them Doctors of Physical Therapy.  This means that, including clinical internships, PTs go to school for roughly 7 years.  Prior to making the DPT the entry-level degree, persons graduated with a Masters Degree or Bachelors Degree, depending on when they were educated.  All PTs are licensed by our governing body and have to maintain that license with continuing education requirements.  The reason I share this is to clarify that, while there is variety and art in the practice of PT, there is also a rigorous set of scientific standards required to get and maintain a license.  This is good for the patient!  In most states, persons can go directly to an outpatient PT without a physician’s referral.  All this credentialing and schooling is a safeguard for the patient so that you can trust your PT as the first line of defense when you have orthopedic pain, and also trust that they know enough to know when they need to refer you to a doctor.


Lots! In seriousness, you may interact with PTs in an outpatient clinic (like Thrive), a hospital, a cardiac rehab center, and a child’s school.  PTs can specialize in women’s and men’s pelvic floor dysfunction, hand rehabilitation, and lymphedema management, vestibular issues.  We’re everywhere.  At Thrive, you are interacting with orthopedic PTs, meaning we are specialists in the management of musculoskeletal and neuromuscular dysfunction.   What’s that, you ask?  It’s basically any injury or dysfunction that influences the muscles and bones and the creation of movement and/or the coordination of those muscles via the nervous system.  If you’re now thinking, “That seems to cover a lot,” you’d be correct!!  That broad umbrella includes orthopedic post surgical recovery, back and neck pain, muscle and ligament strains and sprains, jaw pain, balance and fall dysfunction, etc.  It’s our passion and goal to return our patients to function, get them back to work or sport or whatever moves them.  We want to see our patients doing what they love without fear of injury or pain.

kinesio taping in room at Thrive SoHoHOW ARE WE UNIQUE?

PTs, by and large, get in the field because we are interested in people.  We talk to our patients, put our hands on them as a means to stretch and manipulate tissue, and problem solve as a team to get them moving.  It is physical and highly interactive work!  It affords us the great privilege of truly knowing the patient and serving as a resource for them.   It is my humble opinion that PTs are expert in not only the management of pain and rehabilitation from injury but also in its prevention.  Rather than coming to Thrive when your back has been hurting for 6 months, imagine the scenario where you come prior to pain for the ergonomic evaluation, stretching program, and hands on re-education that allowed you to function at your best.   I know that, for many, that’s impossible due to time and financial constraints.  So, instead consider coming in when your pain starts…get an early lead on the healing process.  Ultimately, whether you’ve had chronic pain, recent surgery, or want to problem solve out how to return to running after baby, PTs are ready to help you move forward towards achieving your goals!

Elizabeth D'Annunzio Shah Physical Therapist New York CityElizabeth D’Annunzio Shah, PT, DPT, OCS, MTC works with patients of all ages and abilities including recreational athletes, professional dancers and performing artists. She has a special interest in vestibular and balance disorders, movement theory and creative solutions for both neurologically and musculoskeletally impaired persons. Elizabeth is passionate about exercise as a means to maintain health, manage stress and enjoy life! She practices yoga in the Iyengar tradition, is an avid surfer, and participates in distance running events whenever possible. (read more)