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What is Physical Therapy?

October 27, 2020

By Rose Brooks, PT, DPT, NCS

Physical therapy is a discipline that many people are familiar with from personal experience. Whether you’ve torn your ACL, suffer from low back pain, or have a disability, you’ve probably worked with a physical therapist to regain the strength, flexibility, and mobility required to get you back to your daily life.

Physical therapists are movement experts who assist many people in maintaining active lives. They can commonly be found in outpatient clinics, acute care hospitals, schools, skilled nursing facilities, and inpatient rehab facilities. In the world of spinal cord injury (SCI) and brain injury (BI) rehabilitation, physical therapists play an absolutely critical role in helping patients regain mobility and independence and teaching strategies to help maintain these gains.

What is the role of physical therapy in SCI and BI rehabilitation?

When someone sustains a spinal cord and/or brain injury, they often lose the ability to move or control parts of their body. For example, for someone with a brain injury, it is common to lose function in one side of the body or have difficulty controlling movement. For those with a spinal cord injury, the loss of movement in the arms and/or legs on both sides is common. The job of a physical therapist is to utilize what function patients do have and teach them how to work with their new bodies to become as independent as possible.

For example, a few things that physical therapists at Craig Hospital work on with patients are:

Craig Hospital Physical Therapy Wheelchair Skills

How do you become a physical therapist?

A career in physical therapy could send you anywhere in the country and into a variety of professional settings, from SCI and BI rehabilitation to a school to a professional sports team.

A doctor of physical therapy (DPT) degree is required to be a physical therapist in the United States, while a bachelor’s degree is usually necessary to be accepted into a DPT program. There are fantastic DPT programs in all regions of the country; the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) has a helpful list of accredited DPT programs. The degree generally takes three years and classes include subjects like anatomy and physiology, neuroscience, pharmacology, and more. For tips on pursuing a career in physical therapy, check out the APTA’s website.

As a part of your physical therapy education, you will participate in clinical rotations in order to gain hands-on experience and an understanding of the realities of the job. Craig Hospital prides itself on taking students for clinical rotations in order to help share its vast knowledge with future clinicians and to benefit from students’ fresh insight and curiosity. If you are interested in learning more about student rotations at Craig, contact Cortney Wolfe at cwolfe@craighospital.org.

Physical Therapy at Craig Hospital

What is unique about physical therapy at Craig Hospital?

Craig’s Physical Therapy Department is made up of over one hundred team members who work with inpatients, outpatients, and community members. As one of the largest physical therapy teams in the country dedicated solely to the rehabilitation of people with spinal cord and brain injuries, there are many things that set Craig physical therapy apart:

  • The interdisciplinary approach to all aspects of patient care. Craig physical therapists don’t do their work in a silo; they work collaboratively with a patient’s entire care team, which includes speech therapists, occupational therapists, therapeutic recreation therapists, psychologists, physicians, nurses, and many more. This collaboration ensures that everyone is collectively working toward a patient's goals.
  • Education and hands-on training for family members so they know how to support their loved one in maintaining their physical therapy goals. While Craig physical therapists are typically treating patients, they also work directly with family members to make sure they return home confident that they can help their loved one continue to improve and stay healthy.
  • On top of family education, there is transition-to-home support for patients who need specialized therapy before going home. Like the inpatient program, this is an interdisciplinary approach that includes many different care providers, with a focus on helping patients and their families problem-solve challenges they may face upon returning home.
  • A Peer Mentor Program that brings together Craig grads and current patients to share life experiences and build community. Time and again we hear from Craig graduates that getting to know someone in a similar situation to their own was transformational for their mental health and optimism for the future.
  • The PEAK Center is a state-of-the-art wellness center that serves Craig inpatients, outpatients, and the local community. The PEAK offers a wide variety of equipment and services, including FES bikes, adaptive yoga, and activity-based personal training. Its highly-trained staff creates customized workout plans using research-based practices and cutting-edge technology.
  • The NeuroRecovery Network (NRN) is an intensive outpatient therapy program that uses locomotor training and neuromuscular electrical stimulation to stimulate the nervous system and drive motor recovery. It is a fantastic opportunity for outpatients to be able to access.

Craig Hospital's Physical Therapy Department is fortunate to have a talented group of physical therapists, exercise specialists, techs, and aides who provide exceptional care for our patients. Our team operates at a high standard of care while enjoying the collaborative environment and access to the latest technology and equipment. The ability to help people through some of the most difficult times in their lives provides for strong relationships and a rewarding career.

Craig Hospital Physical Therapy Department
The Craig Hospital Physical Therapy Department in 2018.