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Physical therapy terminology

Physical therapy is a specialized area of medical field and as such it uses terms that are inherent to the profession. For those who are unfamiliar with physical therapy, some of the terms may sound like another language. This article presents a glossary of commonly used terms in order to give you a better understanding of what they mean and how they may relate to you.

Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) refer to daily self-care activities like bathing, dressing, toileting, feeding and meal preparation. ADL retraining is usually the domain of Occupational Therapy.

Active Range of Motion is when a person moves a body part on his own without any help or support from the therapist. This is as opposed to passive range of motion when the part is moved by the physical therapist without any help from the patient. Active assisted range of motion is movement of a body part assisted either by the physical therapist, or by the patient using another limb to assist the weaker limb.

Cartilage is connective tissue that covers the ends of bones and acts as a cushion to absorb shock and a smooth surface to decrease friction between two or more bones in a moving joint.

Contracture occurs when a joint loses motion due to structural changes in the muscle, ligaments or tendons. Contractures are common in stroke as a result of lack of movement.

A deformity is a major difference in the shape of a body part compared to what is normal for that body part. Deformity is most often seen in arthritis and sometimes in severe burn cases.

Fine motor is the action involving the small muscles of the hands, as in handwriting, sewing or knitting.

Gross motor involves the larger muscle groups of the body to perform bigger movements such as walking or kicking a ball.

Ligaments are the soft tissues that hold two or more bones together.

Manual therapy is skillful handling with the hands to give a therapeutic effect.

Tendon is the non-contractile unit that transmits the force of the muscle to the bone. Tendons connect muscles to bones.

These are just a few of the most basic terms one would encounter during physical therapy. As always, we will clarify anything you may have questions about.


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