Physical Therapy 101

Physical Therapist

You have a dull ache in your joints that just won’t go away. Ultimately, you and your doctor decide that physical therapy is the best way to get you the relief you need. Since there are so many different conditions that can benefit from physical therapy, it is often hard to define. So you may ask: what is physical therapy really?

Physical therapy is a type of rehabilitative medicine that is used to treat disease, injury or deformity. Physical therapists work with patients to reach their goals of reducing pain, improving flexibility and restoring or improving mobility. Physical therapy is also used to improve the overall health of the patient by prevention, wellness and disease management.

How is that accomplished? Physical therapists use varied forms of modalities, exercise and education.

Some important things to keep in mind:

  • What is a physical therapist’s role?

According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA):

PhysicalTherapists (PTs) are health care professionals who diagnose and treat individuals of all ages, from newborns to the very oldest, who have medical problems or other health-related conditions that limit their abilities to move and perform functional activities in their daily lives.

PTs 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.

  • What is Orthopedic Physical Therapy?

Orthopedic physical therapy focuses on the diagnosing and treatment of the musculoskeletal system. The musculoskeletal system includes any area within your body that gives you the ability to move, including:

  • Bones
  • Muscles
  • Cartilage
  • Ligaments
  • Tendons
  • Connective tissues
  • Joints
  • Who Needs Physical Therapy:
    • Patients after orthopedic surgery
    • Patients lacking mobility or function
    • Patients with pain and disability
  • What are the most common treatments?
    • Exercise to improve strength, endurance, balance and flexibility
    • Modalities, which include: Hot packs, Ice, Electrical Stimulation and Ultrasound
    • Gait training to assist with ambulation and mobility using an assistive device
    • Education to prevent further disability and improve wellness

To learn more about the physical therapy options available to you, visit

Danielle Edwards is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and the Manager of Acute Care Orthopedic Rehabilitation at Hospital for Special Surgery.

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.


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