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The Role of the Physical Therapist in the Management of Rheumatic Disease

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The role of the physical therapist is to assist patients in preventing disability and aid in achieving optimal function and pain relief. Additionally, physical therapists assist patients with their physical recovery and re-entry into the community, home and work environment at the highest possible level of independence and self-sufficiency.

What Does the Physical Therapist Do?

Assessment and evaluation of:

  • Physical and functional status, including mobility, strength, ambulation, self care skills, posture and body mechanics
  • Musculoskeletal system and joints
  • Neuromuscular, cardiovascular, pulmonary and integumentary system
  • Special equipment or devices including modified footwear, splints or assistive ambulation devices
  • Therapeutic exercise and individualized programs and services

The PT works with the patient to develop goals and an individualized plan of care, provides patient and family education and performs specific therapeutic interventions. Therapeutic exercises are used to improve a patient’s muscle strength, joint mobility and cardiovascular and pulmonary function. The PT teaches self-management skills, enabling patients to modify their individual exercise programs according to disease activity level. Physical modalities such as heat, cold, electrical and mechanical therapy and hydrotherapy are used to achieve temporary relief of pain, reduce muscle spasm, and decrease inflammation, thus preparing the patient for exercise and activity.

Where Does the Physical Therapist Work?

The PT provides care in a variety of settings, including hospitals, outpatient clinics, private practices, rehabilitation centers, schools, nursing homes, industry, home health agencies and the community. In more than 46 states, patients have direct access to a PT. In the remaining states, patients may be referred by health care providers to a PT for consultation and treatment. A referral from a physician, nurse practitioner or physician assistant may be required by certain third party payers for reimbursement of PT services.

What Kind of Training Does a Physical Therapist Have?

The PTs are licensed by the state in which they practice. Currently, the majority of university programs require a Doctor of Physical Therapy for professional preparation to sit for the licensure examination. A small number of universities require at least an entry-level educational requirement of a master’s degree. The Commission on the Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education must accredit all educational programs.

Rheumatologists and rheumatology health professionals

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For more information

For additional information, contact the Association of Rheumatology Health Professionals at 2200 Lake Boulevard NE, Atlanta, GA 30319 or (404) 633-3777 or .

October 2011, Practice Committee

This patient fact sheet is provided for general education only. Individuals should consult a qualified health care provider for professional medical advice, diagnoses and treatment of a medical or health condition.

© 2011 American College of Rheumatology