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Raising the Bar in Rehab

Clarification: PTs Are NOT Massage Therapists

Published September 23, 2008 11:02 AM by Lisa Catenacci
As I was standing in our PT office last week to drop off some paperwork, a student came in and asked if he could enroll in one of our massage classes.  He explained that he was "interested in learning massage, and thought this would be the place to go-since PTs give massages." 

Since I have a Type A personality (at times) I explained to the young gentleman how PTs are very different than massage therapists, and the differences between massage and soft/deep tissue mobilization. We don't give manicures or pedicures, either. I'm not trying to belittle the massage therapy profession, or spas and salons for that matter-but trying to emphasize our differences (Our PT curriculum does not include a "massage" course, but the concepts are intertwined throughout several courses. Either way, I gave the gentleman the name of a reputable massage school in downtown Milwaukee and he thanked me for my time. )

So, to simplify: PTs focus on reducing pain and increasing function in our patients.  This might mean using soft tissue mobilization during a therapy session (to increase blood flow, and use the Gate Control Theory for pain relief). Most likely, the remainder of the session will focus on active stretching and strengthening, and regaining lost range of motion.

That's one aspect of PT I kind of like-standing up for the profession.  PTs are often confused with massage therapists, and we all know the discrepancies with chiropractors, athletic trainers-the list goes on.  But, it's our generation of PTs who will determine the turf of the profession.  Likewise, it's our generation who will have to establish the reputation of PTs to the general public.  It's important for PTs to educate patients, caregivers and friends about the roles and specialties of PT.

Anyone else out there having a career identity crisis?  What's the best comment you've heard about being a PT?


I find that other professions, and patients will sometimes confuse everyday tasks with physical therapy.  For example:

CNA states to the therapist: "I already provided Mr. Jones with his physical therapy today...I walked him around the hall s you don't need to see him today".  

Physical therapist replies:  "so did you instruct him on the proper mechanics of gait correcting his limitations with weight acceptance and heel strike on the involved side?"

CNA replies "no, I just took him for a walk".

Physical therapist replies:  "so great you did your job getting him out of bed, and now I am going to provide skilled physical therapy to address his mobility deficits but good job doing your job".

Sometimes I will hear patients states: "I already did my physical therapy today (referring to their home exercise plan).  I suppose I should be thankful they are doing their exercises.  But I feel it necessary to remind them that exercising is not synonymous with physical therapy, and should be something we all participate in on a regular basis.  But, as physical therapists our responsibility is to provide exercises to address functional deficits, and to restore function.

Elizabeth, physical therapy - physical therapist August 22, 2012 12:59 PM
Phoenix AZ

Idenity crises indeed...consider the following orders I've receive in the past:

1. "PT for massage, Dx: tension HAs" (yeah, forget mechanical evaluation and home exercise program)

2. "PT to walk patient TID" (for this I have a DPT?)

3. "PT for conditioning exercises for 1 year" (ever hear of a gym?)

4. "Outpatient PT 3x a week for 4 weeks to teach patient pendulum exercises" (does it really take that long to learn?)

....and my absolute favorite:

5. "PT to provide games, crafts and activities for patient"

So that makes me an MT, a "dog walker", a personal trainer, a baby sitter and an activities coordinator.

Unfortunately, it's not just the general public that lacks knowlege about PT.  ....but I take it in stride and it gives me a good chuckle with my co-workers.

Christie, Physical Therapist October 6, 2008 10:21 PM
Streamwood IL

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