What’s The Difference Between a Physical Therapist and a Physical Therapist Assistant?

By: Lisa Gudlin, SPTA


You may have been in a physical therapy clinic that had both a physical therapist (PT) and a physical therapist assistant (PTA) helping you with your rehabilitation. You may have wondered, “What exactly is the difference between them?” Here is a brief explanation:


One of the major differences is the level of education. A PT will typically attend four years of undergraduate college and receive a Bachelor degree and then attend three years of graduate school. This allows a PT to earn their Doctoral degree in Physical Therapy, totaling seven years of schooling.


The PTA typically attends a two-year program at an undergraduate college and receives an Associate of Science degree. Even though a PTA program is relatively short, many science topics are covered: math, chemistry, physics, biology, anatomy and physiology, kinesiology, and pathology. Thus, a PTA is very knowledgeable in how the body works, especially how muscles work and how to strengthen them. A PTA program also has a lot of hands-on training, including lab work in school and clinical experiences in various facilities, such as nursing homes, hospitals, private practices and school settings.


The PTA program prepares graduates to help a supervising PT carry out the plan of care for a client. The physical therapist assistant does not do the following: diagnose injuries, perform initial evaluations, create a plan of care (exercise plan) for a patient, or decide when the patient should stop coming to physical therapy. However, in many clinics, the PTA may be the main person involved with instructing patients in their exercises or performing manual techniques (e.g., stretching); the PTA will always keep an open line of communication with the supervising PT to keep him or her updated or to bring any changes to the PT’s attention.


Both PTs and PTAs are compassionate and caring health care providers, who always put patients first and strive to improve people’s lives through therapeutic exercise. Together, they are a highly effective team that can impact society for the better through knowledge, education, hard work and compassion.


For more information about physical therapists and physical therapist assistants, visit www.apta.org or www.op.nysed.gov/prof/pt.



The Importance of a Functional Squat

By: Matt Ryan, PT, DPT, FMSC


When I mention the word squat, what do you think of? If you frequent the gym, you may visualize a bodybuilder who loads a barbell with the heaviest weights available and then lowers his or her body as close to the ground as possible, with the hope of not collapsing under the pressure of the weight. Or you may think of some popular aerobic-type workouts, where the participants have to perform as many body weight squats, squat jumps, or other variations of the basic squat movement as possible in a short amount of time, with minimal regard for form.


But would you believe me if I said you need to squat to work in your garden? Or, that a squat is essential for helping to lift your young children into and out of a car seat? And you should definitely be squatting to get that bag of groceries from the ground to the counter. Even sitting down in a chair incorporates the basic squat movement. A functional squat is part of our everyday routine – and many of us are potentially squatting with an incorrect movement pattern. Proper mechanics of a squat require stable feet with good arch support, flexible ankles, knee stability, hip and abdominal muscle activation, and a mobile mid-spine. Asymmetries in flexibility, muscle function, and joint mobility anywhere along the line can lead to poor squat mechanics – which may become a source of pain! 1


At Sports PT, we may ask you to squat as part of an evaluation – it is a tool that helps us diagnose what is contributing to pain in your feet, ankles, knees, hips, or back2. If we find any dysfunction, we will retrain your squat mechanics as part of a comprehensive treatment plan to get you moving through the day with greater function. By incorporating a functional squat into everyday life, you may also help to prevent future recurrence of pain (especially once the snow shoveling season starts up again!). So if you are having difficulty or discomfort with daily activities around the house, at work, or with gym or sporting activities, set up an appointment at one of our convenient Sports PT locations. And don’t be surprised if we ask you to show us your squat!


Photo Source:




1. Cook, G., Burton, L., Hoogenboom, B.J., & Voight, M.  (2014).  Functional movement screening: The use of fundamental movements as an assessment of function – Part 1.  The International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 9(3): 396-409.

2. Butler, R.J., Plisky, P.J., Southers, C., Scoma, C., & Kiesel, K.B.  (2010).  Biomechanical analysis of the different classifications of the Functional Movement Screen deep squat test. Sports Biomechanics, 9(4): 270-279.


Attention, All Runners: What You Need To Get Through Your Next Marathon

By: Julie Randall, PT and Julie Wolfley, DPT, OCS


Whether you’re a seasoned marathon runner or a newbie, these tips will help you get through your next race.


Don’t Just Run


Incorporating a strengthening routine into your race training can improve your race result. A strengthening routine can reduce injury risk, improve your running endurance, and improve your speed. As reported by Mackenzie Lobby for Running Times, according to one study, “Of more interest to runners looking for lower PRs (personal records), however, is the fact that they identified a 2.9 percent improvement in 3K and 5K performances. That’s like going from a 13:30 5K to a 13:06.5.”


Don’t train through pain


Know when to stop if an injury creeps up, and don’t train through pain. Get it checked out early to allow yourself enough time to get back to running sooner and to prevent a major injury that could keep you sidelined for a long time.


Many physical therapists complete running assessments. An assessment can provide useful information on areas of weakness that can be worked on to reduce injury risk. New York State now has Direct Access for Physical Therapy. This allows you to see a physical therapist without having to wait to see your doctor first. Don’t wait; get yourself checked out to stay healthier on the run.


Use proper footwear


Most local running stores provide a shoe fitting service. Getting the proper footwear not only can make a big difference in your comfort level while running, but it can also also help prevent injury.


Conserve your energy


Don’t go out too fast in the first 1-2 miles, as you will need to conserve your energy to complete the race successfully. Be aware of your pace and avoid that initial rush in the beginning. It will be worth it in the end!


Try dynamic stretching before you run


Running is a dynamic activity, so avoid static (long hold) stretching prior to running. Static stretching may actually turn your muscles off. Learn how to dynamically stretch your hamstrings, quads and calves to get your blood flowing, muscles stretched out, and muscles turned on to run a great race.


Improve endurance of your butt muscles


Endurance is very important for marathon runners, and one of the most neglected muscles to be trained is your gluteus medius muscle (one of your three gluteal, or butt, muscles). If your gluteus medius is not trained for endurance, then it fatigues, which puts more stress on your hips, knee and feet. You may experience pain when your gluteus medius fatigues, as well as have to slow down your pace, which will affect your final results. Physical therapists are very good at teaching gluteus medius exercises to maximize your performance.


Following these six tips can put you on the road to a better performance in your next marathon.


1. Lobby, M. (2011, January 14).  Run Stronger, Run Longer:  How Strength Training Benefits Runners.  Retrieved from: http://www.runnersworld.com/race-training/run-stronger-run-longer-how-strength-training-benefits-runners?page=single

2. The running athlete: stress fractures, osteitis pubis, and snapping hips. (2014, March 6) Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24587861

Is Cupping Therapy Right For You?

By: Megan James, SPT


Cupping therapy is a technique from Traditional Chinese Medicine that is used to loosen up the fascia, a fibrous tissue that surrounds and protects many muscles, bones, nerves and blood vessels throughout our bodies.  When fascia becomes tightened, it can cause pain, which can affect how we walk, work, exercise and even sleep. Cupping therapy, also called “myofascial decompression,” aims to release the tension that has developed in the fascia to decrease pain and increase function.


Traditionally, cupping therapy was performed with cups made out of bamboo, wood, glass or a ram’s horn; today, the cups are typically made out of silicone to provide more flexibility over various body parts. Dry cupping is performed by placing a cup on a body region and suctioning air out of the cup with a pump vacuum, drawing the skin into the cup.  The purpose of this technique is to relieve tension by increasing blood flow to the area, which increases the amount of oxygen and nutrients available to the tissue in order to heal.


Although there has been minimal research done on the effectiveness of cupping therapy, its potential benefits are supported by recent studies on conditions that are very common among Americans:


Low back pain: decreased pain, increased range of motion and pressure tolerance1

Carpal tunnel syndrome: decreased pain, increased function2

Knee osteoarthritis: decreased pain, increased function and quality of life ratings3


Each of these studies reported few adverse effects of the technique, with the most common being bruise-like markings in the areas of cup placement.


For more information on cupping therapy, ask your physical therapist or visit www.cuptherapy.com.


Sports PT is proud to invest in teaching and mentoring students of physical therapy throughout New York State. To learn more about the student experience, visit here.



  1. Markowski A, Sanford S, Pikowski J, Fauvell D, Cimino D, Caplan S. A pilot study analyzing the effects of Chinese cupping as an adjunct treatment for patients with subacute low back pain on relieving pain, improving range of motion, and improving function. J Altern Complem Med. 2014;20(2):113-117. doi: 10.1089.acm.2012.0769
  2. Michalsen A, Bock S, Lüdtke R et al. Effects of traditional cupping therapy in patients with carpal tunnel syndrome: A randomized controlled trial. J Pain. 2009;10(6):601-608. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2008.12.013
  3. Teut M, Kaiser S, Ortiz M et al. Pulsatile dry cupping in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee – a randomized controlled exploratory trial. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2012;12:184. http://www.biomedcentral.com/1472-6882/12/184


What You Need to Know About Head Injuries

By: Teresa Hall, PT, DPT, OCS


Though not always visible and sometimes seemingly minor, a head injury is very complex. Here are the top five takeaways from our presentation to the Dent Concussion Support Group earlier this month:


  • Concussion-like symptoms of headaches and dizziness may be due to a neck injury instead of a brain injury, especially if it’s been more than two weeks since the incident.
  • Whiplash is one of the most common types of neck injury. The best way to recover from whiplash is to move the neck as soon as possible and avoid neck collars.
  • Some neck strains will damage the ligaments in the upper neck and cause instability, which is potentially dangerous to the spinal cord.
  • Most problems affecting the neck after a concussion, including pain, headaches, and dizziness, can be easily treated through postural corrections, corrective exercises, and manual treatment.
  • After a head injury, it’s a good idea to see a qualified health professional if your symptoms persist for a long time because there’s much that can be done.


A physical therapist can help you with your post-concussion treatment. For more information, please visit us at www.sptny.com or contact us at info@sptny.com.


Common Biking Ailments and How to Recover

By: Allison Pulvino, MSPT, CMP


Whether it’s from overtraining or a poor bike fit, strain and injury can be a common part of this summer sport. Below are three typical ailments, followed by movements to help you recover:


1. Mid back pain:


Why? Prolonged leaning and bending over the bike creates excessive strain in the mid back (thoracic region).


Movements that help:

  • Yoga poses Cat and Cow, Up Dog
  • Lying on your stomach and propping yourself up on your elbows
  • Squeezing your shoulder blades together (to help with upright posture)
  • Increasing your core control by adding planking into your routine.


2. Shoulder pain:


Why? The forward lean on the bike can create a pinch in the front of the shoulder.


Movements that help:

  • Chest stretching: Place your arm in the doorway and rotate it away, creating a stretch in the chest area. Sometimes called a “pec stretch.”
  • Rotator cuff strengthening: Use a TheraBand to strengthen the shoulder


3. Hip pain:


Why? Constant pedaling can create fatigue in the core, and the front of the hip can often start compensating for the gluteus medius (buttock) muscle. Often people will feel a pinch in the front of their hip or excessive soreness in the front of their hip.


Movements that help:

  • Lying down, cross one leg over the other and pull up to stretch the buttock muscle.
  • Bridge: While lying on your back, squeeze your buttocks together with a belt around your knees and push out. This will stretch your buttocks muscles.


By trying some of these movements, you may be able to minimize the pain from bicycling.