What is Physical Therapy and Why Is It Not Just About Massage
September 08, 2017 972

September 8 has been slotted as World Physical Therapy Day. In celebration, we wish to debunk one of the most common stereotypes of the profession – Physical Therapy as mostly massage.

It has become common to associate Physical Therapy with massage. And whereas physical therapists have indeed studied techniques in massage and joint manipulation, there is more to the profession.

So what do physical therapists really do?  The American Physical Therapy Association (2015) wrote that physical therapists “examine each individual and develop a plan, using treatment techniques to promote the ability to move, reduce pain, restore function, and prevent disability. In addition, PTs work with individuals to prevent the loss of mobility before it occurs by developing fitness- and wellness-oriented programs for healthier and more active lifestyles.”

In a nutshell, physical therapists work with patients to restore the mobility that might have been impaired by injury, illness, aging, and other factors, and as well as work to promote optimal physical function and well-being.

Those definitions highlight one important fact that we tend to overlook – Physical Therapists no longer just work with people who have disabilities.

If that is the case, then where else can physical therapists practice?

The American Physical Therapy Association (2015) lists the following as some of the most common areas of practice for Physical Therapists:

  • Outpatient clinics or offices

  • Inpatient rehabilitation facilities

  • Skilled nursing, extended care, or subacute facilities

  • Homes

  • Education or research centers

  • Schools

  • Hospices

  • Industrial, workplace, or other occupational environments

  • Fitness centers and sports training facilities

So why become a physical therapist?

Forbes ranked physical therapists as having one of the “Ten Happiest Jobs” in an article they published in 2013. Almost three quarters of physical therapists have reported being “highly satisfied” with their job according to a survey conducted by the National Opinion  Research Center at the University of Chicago in 2007, published on this Washington Post article.

More than just job satisfaction and the growing demand for physical therapists, their impact on the health and wellbeing of people is something that should be underscored.

A New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) study, published in 2013, showed that physical therapy is just as effective as surgery in patients with meniscal tears (a common knee injury) and arthritis of the knee.

Another study published by the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine (2015) has also discovered that physical therapy is effective in treating pain after surgery, and impaired mobility after treatment of breast cancer.

These are only two of the numerous studies that prove the impact of physical therapy on healthcare.

In fact, the Presidential Proclamation declaring September 8 as National PT Day in the Philippines recognizes that a significant number of Filipinos need PT services as a “promotive, preventive, curative, and rehabilitative measure”. Moreover, the annual celebration of World PT Day serves to reiterate the importance of physical activity in our health and well-being.

More than just massage, physical therapy inspires us to move (pun intended) towards achieving good health and well-being.