PT Glossary

Physical Therapy Glossary of Terms


General Health

*Information provided by the American Physical Therapy Association (


Achilles Tendinitis

Achilles tendinopathy is an irritation of the Achilles tendon, a thick band of tissue along the back of the lower leg that connects the calf muscles to the heel. You may experience tenderness in the heel or Achilles tendon, tightness in the ankle or calf, swelling in the back of the ankle, or pain and stiffness in the back of the heel. Physical therapy promotes recovery by addressing issues such as pain or swelling of the affected area, and any lack of strength, flexibility, or body control.

Adhesive Capsulitis (Frozen Shoulder)

Adhesive capsulitis is the stiffening of the shoulder due to scar tissue, which results in painful movement and loss of motion. Some believe it is caused by inflammation, such as when the lining of a joint becomes inflamed (synovitis), or by autoimmune reactions, where the body launches an “attack” against its own substances and tissues.Your physical therapist’s overall goal is to restore your movement so that you can perform your activities and life roles. Once the evaluation process has identified the stage of your condition, your therapist will create an exercise program tailored to your needs.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a common condition of the wrist and hand that can affect the use of the whole arm. It is caused by pressure on the nerve at the base of the palm.Physical therapy can often relieve pain and numbness and restore normal use of the hand, wrist, and arm without the need for surgery. CTS usually starts gradually, with symptoms such as burning, tingling, “pins and needles,” or numbness in the palm of the hand and fingers. After the evaluation, your physical therapist will prescribe your treatment plan based on your specific case.

Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is any discomfort or unpleasant sensation that lasts for more than 3 months – or beyond an expected normal healing time. Often, those who have chronic pain believe they have an ongoing disease or that their body has not healed, when this may not be the case. Chronic pain is likely not warning you of possible injury or danger; instead, the pain centers in the brain may be causing you to hurt even though there are no new causes of pain occurring in the body. Your physical therapist will work with you to educate you on chronic pain, find solutions to improve your quality of life, and get you moving again. He or she will help you improve movement, teach you pain management strategies, and reduce your pain.

Functional Exercise

Exercises that promote strength, balance, coordination, range of motion, endurance, and stability needed to safely participate in all activities of life.


Your physical therapist will work with you to correct the problems that are causing your pain and will help you learn to prevent headaches through simple changes in your posture and lifestyle. Some things might include improving neck mobility, improving strength and posture, and modifying your workstation or home to encourage proper positioning.

Holistic Health

An integrative approach, that includes consideration for a persons whole body and aspects of life that influence their wellbeing. This can include their lifestyle, environment, mind, in addition to the physical body.


Pain and dysfunction resulting from trauma. This can be related to a single event, repetitive trauma, or the result of a condition.

Inner Ear Trauma

Your inner ear is critical to keeping your balance. Sometimes when the head is injured in an accident or a fall, the inner ears are injured as well. When the inner ears are injured, you may have vertigo, dizziness, unsteadiness, unclear vision and neck pain. Your therapist’s main focus is to help you get moving again and manage the symptoms at the same time. Treatment may include specialized exercises to decrease or eliminate dizziness, improve balance and restore clear vision when the head is moving. If you also have stiffness or pain in your neck, your physical therapist will prescribe exercises and treatments such as manual therapy to help reduce the pain and stretch your muscles.

Manual Therapy

Hands-on treatment of muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia, nerves, organs, joints, and other structures, to decrease pain and increase function. It can be utilized in all areas and systems of the body.


Personalized direction in food choices, timing, and combining to optimize your body’s ability to heal. Using food as medicine, we can reduce systemic inflammation, improve conditioning, and aid in weight loss.


“Arthritis” is a term used to describe inflammation of the joints. Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis and usually is caused by the deterioration and pain of a joint. Typically, the weight-bearing joints are affected, with the knee and the hip being the most common.Physical therapists can help patients understand OA and its complications, and provide treatments to lessen pain and improve movement. Additionally, physical therapists can provide information about healthy lifestyle choices and obesity education.

Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is a condition causing heel pain when you put weight on your foot. Supporting the arch, the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissue connecting the heel to the ball of the foot, can become inflamed or can tear. The pain can be felt at the heel, or along the arch and the ball of the foot. Your physical therapist will work with you to develop a program to decrease your symptoms that may include stretching exercises, use of a night splint to maintain correct ankle and toe positions, and/or supportive footwear to reduce stress to the plantar fascia.

Post-Operative Rehabilitation

A combination of manual therapy, lifestyle modification, and exercises necessary to promote proper healing, and restoration of function following surgery. Beneficial for all post-operative patients.

Postural Restoration

An integrative PT specialty, based on the influence of the respiratory system, muscle chains and asymmetrical patterns in the body. It corrects postural asymmetry that can negatively affect muscle function and structural alignment.

Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis is a narrowing within the vertebrae of the spinal column that results in too much pressure on the spinal cord (central stenosis) or nerves (lateral stenosis). Spinal stenosis may occur in the neck or in the low back, leading to pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness in your arms and shoulders, legs, or trunk. In most cases, symptoms of spinal stenosis can be effectively managed with physical therapy and other conservative treatments. Only the most severe cases of spinal stenosis need surgery or more aggressive treatments. The goal of PT will be to increase movement and reduce pain through a series of exercises and manual therapy.

Sports Medicine

Sports specific treatments and injury prevention. In addition to athletic performance, conditioning, and form.

Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow is a painful condition caused by overuse of the muscles in your arm and forearm. Prolonged use of the wrist and hand, such as when using a computer or operating machinery, can lead to tennis elbow. It can happen to athletes, non-athletes, children, and adults. Symptoms may include radiating pain into your forearm and/or wrist, and difficulty doing common tasks, such as turning a doorknob. Your physical therapist can design a specific treatment program that will include exercises that you can do at home, or other treatments including manual therapy, ice or heat treatments, and electrical stimulation.

Therapeutic Pilates

Contemporary Pilates exercises for rehabilitation and pain management. The selected exercises, and progressive sessions are tailored to the individual.


Women’s Health


Abdominal Pain

Pain in your midsection or abdomen tends to be general, local or can be experienced as cramping. All types may come and go or be constant. All can be related to a variety of conditions and concerns.


When a bowel movement becomes difficult, and less frequent, especially if you have two of the following symptoms for 3 months or more: straining to have a bowel movement more than 25% of the time, hard stool more than 25% of the time, inability to completely evacuate your bowels more than 25% of the time, and 2 or fewer bowel movements per week.

Diastasis Rectus Abdominis

DRA is a common condition that affects many pregnant women. As a fetus grows, the uterus expands, placing stress on the muscles. The primary abdominal muscle on the front side of the body becomes divided into a left and right half by a thick band of connective tissue called the linea alba. A woman with DRA may experience a visible and palpable separation of the rectus abdominis muscle, feelings of “flabbiness” in the abdominal muscles, pelvic-floor muscle dysfunction that causes urinary or bowel problems, low back or pelvic or hip pain, and other problems. PT can help strengthen the pelvic floor and improve symptoms through postural training, stretching, and more.


Painful sexual intercourse.

Pelvic Floor Pain

Pain in and around your pelvic region. Can be related to your digestive, reproductive, or urinary system.

Pelvic Prolapse

When muscles and ligaments that support organs move out of place, allowing them to move into the vaginal canal, or rectum. Common after childbirth, hysterectomy or menopause. You may have heard your doctor call it: cystocele, rectocele, uterine prolapse, or enterocele.

Pre and Post Natal Care

Meeting the needs of women before, during and after pregnancy. Including low back pain, pelvic pain, diastasis recti, and incontinence.

Urge and Stress Incontinence

Involuntary release of primarily urine involuntarily. Urge incontinence occurs when you have a sudden need to urinate followed by a bladder spasm or contraction causing involuntary urination. Stress incontinence can occur with a sneeze, cough, laugh, or any physical activity, causing involuntary urination.


Vaginal spasms or involuntary vaginal muscle contractions that are uncomfortable or painful.


Chronic pain of the vulva without an identifiable cause. This is pain experienced externally around the vagina.

Women’s Pelvic Rehabilitation

Physical therapy treatments, exercises, and self- directed home programs used to relieve pelvic floor dysfunction.