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  • Writer's pictureLoren Wooldridge

Why is it so hard to define what a Physical Therapist does?

In a world where healthcare professionals often get categorized by their signature techniques, physical therapists stand out as a unique breed. Unlike chiropractors known for adjustments, massage therapists for massage, or acupuncturists for acupuncture, physical therapists (PTs) navigate a diverse landscape of treatments ranging from dry needling to spinal manipulation, exercise regimes, and educational guidance. With their comprehensive scope of practice, it’s easy for PT’s to be misunderstood by their own patient population.

Let’s delve into this complex world to uncover the breadth and depth of what physical therapists really do.

The Multifaceted Toolbox

Physical therapy is not a one-size-fits-all solution. PTs employ a diverse toolkit honed through years of education and hands-on experience. This toolbox includes but is not limited to:

low back dry needling
Dr. Loren dry needling a back

1. Dry Needling: Often mistaken for acupuncture, dry needling is a technique that involves inserting thin needles into muscle tension to alleviate pain and improve movement. Unlike acupuncture, which follows traditional Chinese medicine principles, dry needling focuses on targeting muscular dysfunction. We utilize dry needling at The Health Lab as it rapidly  expedites our successful outcomes saving you time, money, and frustration.

cervical spine manipulation
Dr. Loren manipulating a neck

2. Spinal Manipulation: While chiropractors are renowned for their spinal adjustments, physical therapists also use spinal manipulation techniques to address joint dysfunction and relieve pain. These techniques are grounded in evidence-based practice and are often integrated into comprehensive treatment plans. When it comes to back pain and neck pain, manipulation is a front line treatment that needs to be included in your PT sessions, which isn’t always the case.

Running form prescription at the health lab
Dr. Loren working through running form

3. Exercise Prescription: Exercise lies at the core of physical therapy interventions. PTs prescribe tailored exercise programs to improve strength, flexibility, endurance, and functional abilities. These exercises are designed to address specific impairments and promote long-term recovery. At the end of the day all roads in physical therapy should lead to load, this is a key feature of PT.

Dr. Loren educating a patient
Dr. Loren talking with a patient

4. Patient Education: Empowering patients with knowledge is a cornerstone of physical therapy. PTs educate individuals about their condition, treatment options, and strategies for self-management. By fostering a deeper understanding of their bodies, patients become active participants in their own healing journey. At The Health Lab we leverage the time we have with our patients to optimize their knowledge of their pain, this leads to our patients becoming independent in their recovery over time.

Breaking Stereotypes

Despite the diverse skill set of physical therapists, misconceptions persist, fueled by the prominence of other healthcare professions in the public eye. Chiropractors are often synonymous with spinal adjustments, massage therapists with relaxation techniques, and acupuncturists with needle therapy.

However, physical therapists are not defined by a single modality but by their holistic approach to rehabilitation. They assess each patient comprehensively, considering factors such as medical history, lifestyle, and personal goals. This nuanced understanding allows PTs to tailor treatment plans that address the root cause of the problem rather than just the symptoms. With every patient getting a tailored treatment, it makes defining physical therapy difficult for the public.


Physical therapists can tend to be an enigma within the medical world, wielding a diverse arsenal of techniques to help individuals overcome pain, regain function, and reclaim their lives. While other healthcare professions may have more recognizable techniques, the scope of what physical therapists do is vast and multifaceted. This allows for a more complete understanding of our patients in front of them which increases the likelihood of successful outcomes.

We probably know what you’re thinking at this time. “I have had physical therapy in the past and didn’t experience anything like this.” Just like any profession, there is a wide range of approaches and believes that can impact your experiences with it, physical therapy is no different. Here at The Health Lab, we leverage the hour long visits with our committed physical therapist’s to give you the most optimal experiences possible. This optimal experience significantly improves the success we achieve at each and every visit. Are you wanting to see what it looks like to receive care from an expert physical therapist at The Health Lab, well schedule a free discovery visit today!

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