Physical Therapy Futurology

Written by Thomas Jorno

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by Rachel Granzow, SPT


As “rehabilitation” professionals, physical therapists are often considered to be mechanics of sort. Something goes “wrong” with the body and, as a result, movement is impaired, and, often, there is pain.  A PT can improve how the body moves in a variety of ways and as a result, the pain improves.

This process — from symptom, to treatment, then relief — is the typical medical model of intervention. But I wouldn’t call this “health care.” It’s more like “sick care,” because people don’t seek the services of a PT until something is amiss. The job of the PT, in this paradigm, is to help set things right again, to “fix” patients.

At least that’s how things are now. But with medical costs rising along with rates of chronic disease, something has to change. The PT profession is poised in a prime position to make a significant contribution towards preventive care. That is, helping people improve their health BEFORE issues arise and, whenever possible, avoid problems altogether. Here are some ways that the future may look for physical therapy.

Annual checkups

Much like you see a dentist, optometrist, or other specialist provider on a regular basis, you could see a PT for a yearly screening of your “movement system.” Doing so will identify ways to identify risk factors before they turn into major concerns. Having a “PT for life” allows higher quality of care if or when the need for PT arises. 

Click here to read more about annual checkups

On-going disease management

PTs can play a vital role on an interprofessional team for managing many of the most prevalent and costly conditions, including obesity, diabetes, and back pain. Choosing PT as the first-line treatment for these diseases saves money in the long run. As the experts in physical activity, PTs are the best providers to address many of the lifestyle factors that contribute to chronic health conditions.

Click here to read more about PT for pain management

With an aging population, there are increased risks for a variety of health concerns, such as frailty and falls. Improving how seniors are able to move and function in their day-to-day lives is well within the PT wheelhouse. As the “silver tsunami” of the Baby Boomer generation continues to enter this demographic, PTs can work to keep them healthy and active for as long as possible.

Click here to read more about falls

Prenatal and postpartum care

Did you know there’s a PT specialty that focuses on pelvic health? For pregnant women, enlisting a PT in the care team can help with both delivery and recovery after their babies are born. The period of time known as the “4th trimester” is a critical place where PTs can provide support and expertise to mothers. 

Click here to read more about exercise after pregnancy

To be clear, there are many PTs who already provide these services. But as the medical system evolves, demand will increase for this kind of approach. It’s an exciting time to be a PT!