Is Physical Therapy Better?

A comparative overview of the effectiveness of alternative treatment modalities and physical therapy.

I will admit that you are going to get a totally biased view from a physical therapist as to why physical therapy is better than other specialties. I often tell patients, “I don’t care what gets you better, as long as you get well.” I truly believe this.

I am frequently asked to compare physical therapy with the following treatment options:

MASSAGE: Palliative modalities feel great. I think the world would be a better place if we could all afford a massage once a week. Unfortunately, passive treatments cannot fix musculoskeletal pathology. Feeling better does not equate to a biomechanical correction.

ACUPUNCTURE: Similar to massage, acupuncture can provide pain relief, relaxation and an improved sense of well-being. That being said, the underlying movement impairment that led to the problem is still not addressed.

CHIROPRACTIC: This is my most common question. Many people equate the word “manipulation” with “chiropractic.” This is simply not accurate. Skilled physical therapists can perform manipulative therapy when needed. Again, from a corrective standpoint, manipulation without biomechanical training leaves out a large part of the equation.

MEDICATIONS/INJECTIONS: While medication can decrease symptoms, it cannot correct mechanics. However, decreased pain can enhance muscular function. This can substantially enhance therapeutic strength and function.

There are essentially six keys to success in patient care of orthopedic issues.

  1. Determine the reason for the problem.
  2. Control the symptoms.
  3. Restore mobility.
  4. Improve strength.
  5. Reduce postural stress.
  6. Improve overall fitness.

Physical therapy is the only treatment method that addresses all six of these goals. Establishing a relationship with a solid physical therapy practice is essential for effective patient care.

Biagio Mazza, P.T., is a board-certified physical therapist at Elite Sports Medicine and Physical Therapy in Kansas City. He can be reached for questions or comments at

MD News May/June 2011, Kansas City Bi-State