As wellness becomes part of the new paradigm for modern healthcare, many physical therapists (PTs) are expanding the scope of their practices to include the promotion of healthy lifestyles as well as the treatment of injuries.
Physical therapists say their training and experience equip them to lead the charge on fitness. "Physical therapists look at the big picture of a person's health as well as any health professional," says Michael Cibulka, PT, president of the Jefferson County Rehabilitation and Sports Clinic in Festus, Missouri. Preventing injuries, encouraging sound nutrition and promoting exercise are important parts of Cibulka's job. "I tell clients that fitness is the only fountain of youth," he says.
Cibulka is one of many PTs who consider it part of their professional responsibilities to make their communities healthier. Experts predict this trend toward PTs offering innovative wellness services will continue to grow. "Physical therapists are looking to expand their service lines" due to changes in reimbursement levels for traditional therapy services, says Mark DeCarlo, PT, chief operating officer at Methodist Sports Medicine Center in Indianapolis. Many PTs are finding creative ways to enter the wellness and prevention niche, he says. For example, PTs are:
- Hosting Special Events: Many PTs hold open houses, fitness clinics and seminars on health and fitness.
- Combating Childhood Obesity: Physical therapists are joining forces with nutritionists and other health professionals to encourage kids to eat right and exercise. Physical therapist Heidi Jo Hetland cofounded Healthy Kids, an eight-week program in Burlington, North Carolina, for children 7 to 11. The program focuses on identifying and overcoming barriers to exercise and activity, exploring different types of exercise, developing a positive, healthy lifestyle and making healthy eating choices.
- Providing One-Stop Shopping for Healthy Living: Physical therapists are incorporating everything from osteoporosis screenings to weight-management programs into their practices. Some PTs are even entering the spa market. Peter Lord, PT, consultant and author, opened a medical wellness center in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, that combines health-management services such as physical therapy and health screenings with massage, facials and other spa services.
- Promoting Workplace Wellness: PTs play a role at companies that want their employees to stay healthy and productive. Some PTs serve as corporate consultants who analyze work sites and educate employees on ergonomics. Others conduct health screenings or offer wellness seminars at corporations.
- Researching and Reducing Risks: Members of the American Physical Therapy Association studied the link between poor posture and students' use of heavy backpacks. Shelley Goodgold, PT, professor of physical therapy at Simmons College in Boston, found that wearing backpacks improperly or wearing ones that are too heavy can increase children's risk for spinal injury. The research led to a campaign to lighten students' loads or encourage the use of backpacks on wheels.