A multidisciplinary team is essential for the successful treatment of patients with rheumatic conditions and physical therapists are an integral component of the team. This article aims to give you an understanding of the role of a physical therapist, which patients benefit from physical therapy (PT), and which physical therapist may be most appropriate for your patient.
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Explore This IssueJanuary 2013
The Role of a Physical Therapist
The American Physical Therapy Association has a vision that, by 2020, all PT services will be provided by doctors of physical therapy (DPTs). DPTs should be considered the practitioners of choice for patients who have direct access for the diagnosis of, interventions for, and prevention of impairments, activity limitations, participation restrictions, and environmental barriers related to movement, function, and health.1 On January 1, 2016, the DPT will be the required degree for all entry-level physical therapist–education programs.2 Physical therapists are healthcare professionals who use evidence to provide effective care in order to maintain, restore, and improve movement and activity for individuals of all ages. In addition, physical therapists are involved in preventive health by promoting wellness and fitness through identifying risks, delaying functional decline and disability, and enhancing participation in daily activities.2
The profession has outlined the following elements of patient management: examination, evaluation, diagnosis, prognosis, intervention, and outcome assessment. This includes their physical and functional status—mobility, strength, ambulation, self-care skill, posture, and body mechanics—as well as musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, cardiovascular/pulmonary, and integumentary systems. A physical therapist may also prescribe special equipment or devices such as modified footwear, splints, or assistive devices. If appropriate, DPTs may apply modalities or perform manual therapy such as soft-tissue mobilization, joint mobilization/manipulation, myofascial release, and muscle energy techniques. Additionally, a therapist will prescribe therapeutic exercise and individualized home exercise programs aimed to improve the patient’s specific impairments.
Along with advances in PT education and research, evidence-based practice provides the foundation for patient care. Evidence-based practice helps ensure that patients will receive appropriately administered and scientifically supported interventions. To obtain more specific descriptions of physical therapist practice, refer to The Guide to Physical Therapist Practice on the American Physical Therapy Association website at guidetoptpractice.apta.org.
PT is one healthcare profession that is granted the gift of time with patients. This allows a patient to express questions or concerns about their disease process. A very common complaint of patients is feeling undervalued and unheard. Although there are many determinates of patient satisfaction, studies have shown a direct correlation between one-on-one time spent and satisfaction.3,4