Physical Therapy Terminology

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Understanding Physical Therapy Terminology

Physical therapy is a specialized medical field that involves many players including patients with physical injuries, government regulatory agencies, physical therapy associations and medical training institutions that train physical therapists. Physical therapy is not however restricted to enabling individuals with physical injuries to regain the use of their injured body parts; healthy individuals and in particular athletes receive physical therapy in order to keep fit and enhance their performance.

Like in other medical fields, physical therapists use varied terminologies in their practice and it is always good to have an understanding of any physical therapy terminology a therapist uses. Some of the most common terminologies include:

  • Angular kinematics – This refers to the study of angular motions within the body.
  • Active motion – This is the motion that results from the construction of body muscles.
  • Agonist – This refers to the principle muscle that establishes motion in the joints.
  • Arthrodial joint – This is one of the various non-axial joints that have their surfaces almost flat.
  • Arthrokinematics movement – This describes the movement between any joint surfaces within the body.
  • Aponeurosis – This refers to the dense tissues or membranes that connect body muscles to bones.
  • Acromioclavicular (AC) joint – This refers to the joint in the shoulder where the scapula and distal end meet.
  • Balance – Like in other areas, the term refers to body dynamics that enable for appropriate posture.
  • Biaxial joint – This is a term that refers to any joints in the body that allow movement in a perpendicular axis.
  • Composite impairment – This is a term that physical therapists use to refer to an impairment caused by direct and indirect effects of original cause.
  • Concentric contraction – Body muscles contract in different ways and this term specifically refers to one type of muscle contraction where the rate of movement is constant while the body is in motion.
  • Cancellous bone – This does not refer to bones but rather loose bone tissue consisting of branching trabeculae.
  • Diarthrosis – This refers to articular cavity between any two bones.
  • Displacement – This is the most common physical therapy terminology physical therapists use. Displacement refers to change in position of any body part.
  • Electromyogram (EMG) – This is a common test that physicians do recommend to establish a patient’s nerve function before referring a patient to a neurotherapist.
  • Fracture – This is the other physical therapy terminology that is mostly used by both physical therapists and others to refer to a break or crack in bones. The term is also used in physical therapy to refer to crack in cartilage.
  • Kinesiology – This is a physical therapy terminology that refers to the movement of human body.
  • Orthogonal axis – This refers to the axis where two planes cross at right angles.
  • Parallel fiber motion – This refers to body muscles whose fibers are in parallel to its axis from where the muscles obtain necessary force.
  • Peak torque – This describes the maximum extent a muscle can contract.

Understanding physical therapy terminology is at times beneficial to a patient as it informs a patient on the kind of injury sustained.


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