HOW ARE PHYSICAL THERAPISTS DIFFERENT FROM OTHER HEALTHCARE PROVIDERS?
To answer this, I’m going to talk a bit about the process of education for PTs. The entry-level degree for physical therapists is a doctorate- this means that, at minimum, we need to go to 4 years of college (obtaining a BA or BS Degree, typically in a movement science) and then go to three years of graduate school, earning a doctorate degree in physical therapy. Phew, that’s a LOT of student loans! After graduate school, there is an option to further sub-specialize by completing a residency.
Residency options include pediatrics, neurology, sports, and orthopedics- and a lot more! I chose to do a residency in orthopedics because I knew I wanted to specialize in working with an active population and already had a degree in athletic training from college. Residency training in orthopedics includes taking advanced coursework in injury assessment and differential diagnosis, injury prevention, functional exercise, and manual therapy techniques.
After residency comes to the board certification exam- after I passed this, I got to throw an “OCS” behind my name- orthopedic certified specialist. This is pretty rare in PT, in 2014, less than 9% of licensed PTs were board-certified in any specialty area!
OK, SO THERE’S A LOT OF SCHOOL AND TESTING INVOLVED IN BEING A PT…WHAT DO YOU ACTUALLY DO AND WHEN SHOULD I CONSIDER SEEING A PHYSICAL THERAPIST?
I’m going to answer this question assuming that you are a performing artist or an athlete/active person. As such, you’ve probably experienced some aches and pains. Here are the different ways PT can address your issues:
1. Injury Assessment
You got hurt. Whether you caught a dynamic aerial trick wrong and heard a pop/felt immediate pain, or whether you’ve had slow but progressively worse back pain from doing too many backbends, you’re injured. Whether you’re not able to train or having to change how you train, it’s a good idea to get assessed by a PT. They can look at your quality of movement and test for structural damage, and give their opinion on if you need to see an orthopedic physician for an x-Ray or MRI.
2. Performance Enhancement
You’re not in pain, but your body isn’t working how you want it to. Lacking strength, lacking flexibility- PT’s can watch how you move and figure out what’s missing. There are a lot of components of the body that affect how we move, and PT’s have the knowledge to test multiple structures (muscle, joint capsule, nerves, etc) and figure out exactly what the root of the problem is. From there, we can use a combination of manual therapy techniques or targeted stretches and exercises to ensure that you achieve the specific goals you set for yourself.
3. Injury Prevention
Maybe you’re new to being athletic, or maybe you’re switching to a new apparatus. Perhaps you’ve been injured in the past, and want to take steps to avoid re-injury. PT’s can give you supplemental exercises and stretches, and perform manual therapy techniques, based on your specific issues and what you want to do. They can set you up with a comprehensive injury prevention program to make sure you’re training in the smartest way possible!