The 3 differences between a physician’s diagnosis and a PT’s diagnosis with examples

Experiencing chronic pain or other symptoms and you don’t know why? Getting a professional diagnosis can be an excellent starting point for treatment. Once you understand the cause of your symptoms, you can start to seek treatments tailored to your particular condition. Getting a diagnosis is not always straightforward, though. When seeking a diagnosis, it can be hard to tell what makes different kinds of diagnoses different. Getting a diagnosis from a primary care physician is fairly common. However, it is not the only kind of diagnosis. Physical therapists are also trained to diagnose conditions. If you are experiencing shoulder pain, for example, your physical therapist can help identify the cause.

Your primary care physician and your physical therapist serve different roles in supporting your wellness. Though both can serve a vital role in keeping you healthy, their approaches differ significantly. The same is true for their diagnoses. A PT’s arthritis diagnosis, for example, might be very different from a physician’s. Before making an appointment, it’s important to understand how different medical professionals make diagnoses. Many people choose to get multiple expert opinions. This might mean receiving a diagnosis from your physician as well as your physical therapist. Regardless of what you choose, understanding the difference between a physician’s diagnosis and a PT’s diagnosis can help you make an informed decision.

Differences between physician and physical therapist diagnoses

  • Scope of practice — Physicians and physical therapists differ in scope. Physicians tend to focus mainly on medical issues like diseases and infections. Their goal is to understand the cause of symptoms in the body and provide medical interventions. To make a diagnosis, a physician may use tools like an X-ray machine or an otoscope. A physical therapist, on the other hand, will focus more on your functional condition. Before making a diagnosis, a physical therapist will assess things like body mechanics and movement patterns. For example, a PT diagnosis of knee bursitis would be made based on a thorough examination of the patient’s knee functions. The physical therapist might assess the tissue around the knee and test the knee’s capacity to move. A physician, on the other hand, may use methods like ultrasound and blood tests to make a bursitis diagnosis. This method is very different from the example of PT diagnosis.
  • Treatment methods — After providing a diagnosis, medical professionals typically provide a treatment plan. The methods used in your treatment plan will vary depending on who made the diagnosis. Physicians tend to employ medical treatments like medication and surgery. If your physician is not able to address your condition, they may refer you to a specialist. Physical therapists focus on more noninvasive treatment methods. Common PT treatments include targeted exercises and manual therapy. When treating chronic back pain, for example, a physical therapist will develop a holistic treatment plan after diagnosis. The treatment plan will be tailored to your particular needs and goals. The methods involved may range from patient education to cupping therapy.
  • Care approach — Looking for a particular treatment approach? Physical therapists and physicians have fundamentally different approaches to care. A care approach goes beyond specific treatment methods. It is reflected in a medical professional’s priorities and relationship with the patient. When making a diagnosis, physicians sometimes take a generalized approach. Ordering various tests is a common element of a physician’s diagnosis regardless of the condition. Once a diagnosis is reached, your physician may prescribe a general, one-size-fits-all treatment. This goes against the physical therapy approach. Physical therapists work to provide a specialized diagnosis based on a patient’s musculoskeletal condition and overall well-being. Each patient is given a comprehensive assessment to ensure that any unique facets of their condition can be identified and addressed. Experiencing knee pain? A physician might run a few tests and prescribe pain medication. A physical therapist, in contrast, will make a rigorous assessment of your gait, biomechanics and knee condition. This assessment can provide insight into factors that may contribute to your pain. The example of a knee pain diagnosis can illustrate what makes PT stand out.

Get a professional diagnosis at Continuum Wellness

Want to find out what’s behind your symptoms? The expert physical therapy team at Continuum Wellness can help. We take diagnosis seriously. Our patient testimonials offer many examples of successful PT diagnoses and treatments. Receiving an accurate diagnosis can enable you to receive effective treatments tailored to your condition. To help ensure that your diagnosis is accurate, our team conducts comprehensive evaluations with each patient. After being diagnosed, you can work with us to develop a personalized treatment plan as you work toward finding relief.

Call us or request an appointment today to learn more about PT diagnosis. 

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