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  • Writer's pictureRachel Richers

Physical Therapists treat Musculoskeletal Injuries


One way to answer the question of "What conditions do Physical Therapists treat?" is to say that Physical Therapists treat most any condition involving the musculoskeletal system. The term musculoskeletal refers to joints (where two bones meet) and the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and capsule at and around that joint that create or resist movement. Physical therapists often treat these injures directly. These injuries are known to be:

  • Bone - Fracture or break

  • Muscle - Strain or Tear

  • Joint

    • Ligament - Sprain or Tear

      • Ligament = structure that connects one bone to another bone.

    • Tendon - Strain or Tear

      • Tendon = structure that connects a muscle to a bone.

    • Capsule - Capsular injuries occurring within the synovial joint structures


But also, physical therapists must be able to assess whether injury to these tissues occurred directly, or, as the result of poor movement patterning (compensations). Compensations often occurs when we have a goal to accomplish but our bodies are not strong enough to do so correctly, forcing other muscles and structures to do the work. Examples of this include:

  • Pain and tightness in the back of the neck in a person who works on the computer all day.

    • Compensation = neck and shoulder muscles have to support a forward jutting head.

  • Pain in the shoulder when lifting the arm because their shoulder blade isn't stable.

    • Compensation = bigger, stronger muscles force the movement to occur rather than the appropriate smaller coordination muscles working together for smooth movement.

  • Pain in the hip or back because of a developed limp.

    • Compensation = more force is being pushed through one side, generally to offload an acute injury (possible example: rolled my ankle and it hurts so I'll walk a little differently for a few days). If their "different walk" becomes their "new normal walk" even after the initial cause goes away, the asymmetrical forces will accumulate over time to cause injury and damage elsewhere.

(To learn more about compensations, go to compensation blog post - not yet releases as of 9.11.2023; will link in the comments when published.)

To treat a person coming to therapy with acute (new) or chronic (I've had this pain for a while) pain, physical therapists spend our first meeting asking about things such as:

- Where do you hurt?

- Did something happen that started the pain? Or did it develop for no known reason?

- What makes your pain better? What makes it worse?

Answers to these questions will assist in directing treatment sessions. The goal is to identify the interventions needed to get better in the fewest possible sessions.


To learn more about what types of treatments you may receive in physical therapy, go to blog post "Treatment Techniques in General".


Please leave a comment or question, or reach out to me directly via the contact form for further clarification.

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