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What is Physical Therapy

What is Physical Therapy? – Belt Line Talk


In this episode of Belt Line Talk, Dr. Quinn and Dr. Tarnovetchi discuss the definition of Physical Therapy while cruising to Dr. Tarnovetchi’s “interesting and emotional” choice of music.


We asked quite a few patients, friends, and community members what they believe the definition of physical therapy was.  Many stated that physical therapy treats patients who have had surgery or incurred an injury.  Others stated that physical therapy helps athletes get back into sport after injury.  A few patients stated that we work in hospitals with older patients who have difficulty walking.  All of these answers are not wrong- physical therapy addresses all of these populations and areas of treatment.   The problem is that physical therapy extends itself beyond these general examples.  So what exactly is physical therapy?  We dive a little deeper into discussion to help clarify this.


The dictionary definition of Physical Therapy is the treatment of disease, injury, or deformity by physical methods such as massage, heat treatment, and exercise rather than by drugs or surgery.  This definition is very “loose” and does not clearly define what the profession of physical therapy truly is.  By this simple definition alone, one could argue that physical therapy can be performed by anyone who doesn’t prescribe medications and may only apply a hot pack.  Physical Therapy as a service can only be provided by a licensed physical therapist- so the definition needs to be more clear for the community to understand.  Dr. Quinn defines Physical Therapy as “the examination, diagnosis, and treatment of the neuromuscularskeletal system. He clarifies this definition by stating that “we treat the movement systems and those systems associated with the movement system.”  Although this definition sounds extremely clear, even Dr. Quinn states -“this truly doesn’t define what we do.  We as Doctors of Physical Therapy also treat vestibular dysfunction, neurological impairments, women’s health, and pediatrics.  The movement system alone is too simple a statement to define physical therapy as a field of expertise.”


With the confusion of what the actual definition of physical therapy truly is, there are many associated misconceptions of what physical therapy services truly are.  When many patients or community members are asked the question “what do you think physical therapy is?,” many believe that it’s a service provided after surgery or an injury.  Yes, this absolutely true, however, the scope of physical therapy practice is more than just rehabilitation of an injury.  Physical Therapy heavily focuses on prevention of injury.  Most injuries and catastrophic injuries are the result of a previous injury.  These initial injuries are usually a result of poor mobility and stability within the body that could have been addressed by a physical therapist to prevent injury.  Another definition given by a patient was “they treat old people.”  Physical Therapy provides services for patients throughout the lifespan.  Dr. Quinn has treated patients as young as 5 days old and Dr. Tarnovetchi has worked with patients as old as 101 years old.


Dr. Tarnovetchi constantly uses the phrase “movement is medicine.”  His philosophy stands by the necessity to ensure quality movement is achieved throughout all the systems in the body.  The movement system is dependent upon so many other systems in the body- the cardiopulmonary system, the lymphatic system, and many visceral organs will play a role in how a person moves and functions throughout the day.  To say that each system is an island would be naive to how complex the human body truly is.  Dr. Quinn shares a conversation he had with a patient over 10 years ago.  I remember while working with a patient, he stated ‘you know John, in olden days you would be know as a healer.”  To this day, I like that definition the most- we are healers of the human body.

Schedule a FREE 15-minute Exploration Visit

Come visit one of our physical therapy clinics in New York or North Carolina and one of our Doctors of Physical Therapy will do a 15-minute consultation to see if physical therapy is right for you. In the consultation, we’ll help determine the source of pain and movement restrictions to see if you would benefit from physical therapy or might need the assistance of another healthcare professional. If so, we’ll make a referral and help speed up achieving your health goal.

You have nothing to lose; the screening is free! And if physical therapy could help you, we can perform the examination right then–even without a prescription–with Direct Access (covered by insurance).

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