More than Massage – What Does a Physical Therapist Really Do?

getting back in the game

In honor of October being National Physical Therapy Month, I thought it would be a great time to talk about what physical therapy is and what physical therapists do. The profession of physical therapy has evolved greatly over the years, but the number of people who don’t understand what we do is astounding. It doesn’t help that popular television shows and movies portray our profession in a misleading light. No…physical therapists don’t just give massages like the old episode of Seinfeld made it seem. No offense intended because who hasn’t laughed at that episode? However, as a physical therapist, I can’t help but cringe at how our profession is portrayed.

Physical therapists (PTs) are highly trained, licensed professionals who work with patients and clients to manage pain and help to restore function. PTs provide care in a variety of settings, including private practices, outpatient clinics, sports facilities, hospitals, schools, and more. With our advanced education, PT’s are highly trained professionals that can evaluate and treat many musculoskeletal injuries. We take each patient through a thorough evaluation to pinpoint the actual cause of pain and discomfort instead of just treating the symptoms. We are considered the human movement experts and guess what? Movement is medicine! We strive to find ways to get our patients moving and help them return to doing the things that they love to do. Our goal is to empower others to sustain healthy habits in order to achieve long-term quality of life.

Pain is both disabling and debilitating and can prevent someone from living their normal life. When someone is in pain, they will often turn to anything that provides relief in order to return to doing the things they love and restrict their activity levels and movement. What can be a quick fix and provide some temporary pain reduction? Opioids or prescription pain medications. However, taking pain medications is likely only going to mask the problem due to two factors: 1) the human body is very complex 2) pain is multi-factorial. Physical therapy has been shown to reduce the need of pain medications by working to address all the possible causes of your pain and helping you learn ways to be able to sustain these healthy habits[1].

Physical therapists are the human movement experts. We strive to help our patients find ways to modify painful activity while helping them gain strength, flexibility, and range of motion with the goal of restoring full function. We work closely with physicians of all specialties to create a well-rounded medical team with one goal in mind – to return patients to healthy, active lifestyles.


Dowell, D., Haegerich, T. M., & Chou, R. (2016). CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain — United States, 2016. MMWR. Recommendations and Reports, 65(1), 1–49.
Author: Drew Dudek, PT, DPT, ATC is a physical therapist at the O’Fallon, MO location. He enjoys staying active by participating in many recreational and competitive sports and enjoys helping his patients return to the activities they love.