're a physical therapist? What does that mean? 

Jill Heath, PT, DPT

“Are you like a chiropractor?” “Is it sort of like personal training?” “What kind of massage do you do?”  

It’s National Physical Therapy month, so I want to address a question I’ve gotten throughout my 13 years of practice.  

“Oh you’re a physical therapist? What does that mean exactly?”  


Likely you’ve heard of physical therapy, as the profession has been around since the 1920’s (interestingly enough, the professional association was first called the American Women’s Physical Therapeutic Association!!!), but you may also be unclear about what we do.  

As a physical therapist, I am a movement specialist who works with patients to restore function. That means my evaluation involves figuring out WHY something isn’t moving well that can be causing the dysfunction. This includes: posture (too much time in one position can make muscles less able to work well), strength (are some muscles stronger than others?), mobility (do your joints move too much, or not enough?), breathing (if you’ve read my other posts you’ll know this is a big one for a LOT of things!), and how you do the task you’re having trouble with.  

As a women's health and orthopedic PT, my evaluation often involves an internal muscle exam as well (these muscles are located inside the pelvis). Knowing what is happening with all the muscles during tricky tasks (squatting, running, lifting your child), helps me know HOW to help you get that function back.  

The HOW involves a lot of things, which is why our job gets confused with that of other health/fitness professionals. 

  •  Manual therapy: "Hands on" treatment such as soft tissue work (massage), trigger point release (for "knots" in the muscles), and others, with the goal of calming down overactive or spasming muscles.
  • Exercise: Not like, ride a bike for 30 minutes to get your heartrate up, but specific exercises for those muscles we found in the eval aren't as strong. In moms, we commonly need to work on the glutes! Rather than guessing what areas you need to strengthen or improve your coordination in, my process lays out specifics, so you can be efficient with your time.
  • Education: How can you improve your desk so your sitting posture isn't hurting your back? How can you eat/drink differently to reduce the irritation in your bladder? How can you change how you're carrying your kids to help your back? We talk about all these things to empower you to take care of your health.
  • Home exercises: Because I can't be with you all week, I give specific exercises to work on between sessions. I am a mom, so I totally get it - it's hard to fit in one more thing! I work with you to creatively integrate the few exercises into your daily habits so you can be successful and feel better faster.

"What does it take to become a physical therapist?" I have a Doctorate in Physical Therapy, along with a bachelor's degree in exercise science - 7 years of school. Since there is still so much to learn and science is constantly evolving, I participate in continuing education of 30+ hours/year. 

"Can I come straight to you or do I need to see my doctor first?" You can come directly to me! In most states PT's have direct access, meaning you can visit a PT without a referral (but always check with your insurance). If anything is beyond what I can offer as a physical therapist, then I send to the appropriate physician. 

Still not sure if PT is what you need? Send me a message to learn more!

Send me a message!

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About the Author

Jill Heath is a licensed physical therapist and owner of She PT, LLC. She received a Doctorate of Physical Therapy and B.S. in Exercise Science from Northern Arizona University. During years of practice helping individuals of all ages recover from a variety of conditions, she developed a passion for working with women. She opened She PT, LLC with the purpose of meeting not only the unique physical needs of women, but also empowering women to take charge of their well-being by making care accessible.