Many times, I find that patients are surprised at the level of education that physical therapists have. It is helpful to understand the educational preparation your physical therapist has received in order to know who is most appropriate to treat your specific condition. One of the most important things to understand is that physical therapists are experts in the evaluation and treatment of musculoskeletal conditions. This includes sprains, strains, ligament injuries, nerve related injuries, as well as conditions involving the skin and vestibular system.
Physical therapists are now trained at the doctoral level. Entry level graduates earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree, which requires 3 years of specialized training after receiving a Bachelor’s degree. This means that we are trained in various subjects including differential diagnosis, diagnostic imaging, pharmacology, pathology, neuroanatomy, pediatrics, geriatrics, cardiopulmonary, prosthetics and orthotics, and many others. As a profession, we understand the life cycle changes that the body goes through. We possess the ability to read X-rays and MRIs as well as interpret other health care practitioner’s medical findings. Our training allows us to understand the interactions that your medications have within your body and how they will affect your function. Physical therapists are extremely qualified to screen for musculoskeletal injuries and differentiate between them and more serious pathologies. This allows us to appropriately screen and refer to other professionals, such as counselors, opticians, ophthalmologists, neurologists, gastrointestinal specialists, ear nose and throat specialists, dentists, orthotists and many others.
Musculoskeletal screening requires movement testing and gait analysis as well as a thorough knowledge of anatomy. Physical therapists receive the most in depth training regarding anatomical function, and are highly suited to do this. Due to the importance of the musculoskeletal system in preserving function, we recommend an annual physical therapy screening to allow patients to maintain the highest level of independence possible.