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Physical Therapists Advising Patients on a Healthy Lifestyle

Most recently the APTA provided a nutrition webpage and has indicated that nutrition is part of the professional scope of practice for physical therapists. The APTA continues with its position indicating “the role of physical therapist to screen for and provide information on diet and nutritional issues to patients, clients, and the community within the scope of physical therapist practice.”

This is not the first time the APTA has been a proponent of physical therapists to take a proactive role in addressing the health of their patients and society. Previous statements by the APTA suggest that health, prevention and wellness should be key areas that physical therapists address with their patients. APTA holds as ethically binding the principle that PTs “shall endeavor to address the health needs of society.”

APTA envisions that by 2020 consumers “will have direct access to physical therapists in all environments for patient/client management, prevention, and wellness services.”

There has been some division in our profession with those who think that this may not be an area that we as physical therapists should participate. While I believe that physical therapists should not diagnose nutritional needs or deficiencies and this area should be left to Licensed Dieticians, I do believe there is a role for advising patients on the benefits of a healthy weight and benefits of eating fruits and vegetables. Fortunately, much of this information is public knowledge and can be found on several governmental websites.

Yes, our government wants this information dispensed to the masses as our nation is in the midst of an OBESITY epidemic! The Department of Health and Human Services has made numerous attempts to provide well referenced information on the benefits of healthy eating with specific instructions on eating more fruits and vegetables.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention CDC provides information of what a healthy weight is, and how to reach and maintain a healthy weight. Along with this, information on behavioral strategies on healthy eating is made available. This public information is made available for use by patients and clinicians alike and the government strongly encourages health professionals to dispense of this information and make it available to their patients.

The APTA Nutrition webpage has also offered several excellent websites as resources for the physical therapist, including and

There is so much controversial and misinformation regarding diets and weight loss in the public arena. The information on the websites that I have provided is well researched and referenced and is endorsed by our nation’s top health officials. As a healthcare professional, you do not have to be a nutrition expert to utilize this information to direct your patient concerning a healthy lifestyle.

I realize that there will always be ‘turf wars’ between professional associations. However, I would think it tragic to not utilize the information that is made readily available to us as physical therapists to benefit our patients’ health.

Physical therapists should inform their patients on the relationship of obesity and chronic diseases, and advise patients on the benefits of just a 5-10% reduction in body weight. Weight loss is one of the key interventions to reducing pain and improving function for those that have osteoarthritis of the knee.

Physical therapists should encourage their patients to eat more fruits and vegetables and avoid inflammatory refined carbohydrates by directing them to governmental websites such as to obtain 2015-2020 guidelines on food choices. There is a toolkit for professionals on the site that therapists can use to guide their patients.

Sadly, even as our healthcare crumbles because of the explosion of chronic diseases related to obesity, there are many health professionals who are not willing to make the effort or take a stand to help those who need some direction and appropriate input with education and behavioral interventions promoting healthy lifestyle changes and wellness.

I would encourage you to explore the links in this article, and I hope that you take an active role in assisting your patients in making a healthy lifestyle change.

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