Shirley Sahrmann on the Future of Physical Therapy/Physiotherapy

I recently attended the Lower Quadrant — Advanced Application course in St. Louis Missouri and was able to ask Dr. Shirley Sahrmann, the course instructor, her thoughts on the physical therapy/physiotherapy profession.

Specifically, I asked Dr. Sarhmann two questions: Where do you see the future of physical therapy/physiotherapy? Where would you like to see the future of physical therapy/physiotherapy?

Emphasis on Movement

Dr. Sahrmann wants to see the physical therapy/physiotherapy profession place its emphasis on movement. She is excited that the 2013 American Physical Therapy Association House of Delegates adopted a new vision of the profession of physical therapy:

Transforming society by optimizing movement to improve the human experience.

She believes that to succeed in the future, the physical therapy/physiotherapy profession needs to do two things.

Identify With A Body System

First, in order for the physical therapy/physiotherapy profession to get the recognition it deserves and in order to organize itself, it needs to be identified with a body system.

Health professions that stand out are those recognized with responsibility for a particular part of the body system. Their claim to fame is not their treatment methods but their diagnostic capabilities and an understanding and responsibility for a part of the body system.

The physical therapy/physiotherapy profession should own the movement system.

Put a Label On It

Second, no one will think that the physical therapy/physiotherapy profession will figure anything out without putting a label on it. We need to define syndromes that are easily done. And since movement is based on kinesiology and anatomy, and a few rules, we need to work out the labels and encourage people to use those labels.

Focus on Anatomical Structure

The physical therapy/physiotherapy profession needs to put an emphasis on the movement system. They should focus on how the anatomical structure became damaged in a client. Specifically, this will involve the musculoskeletal system as well as lifestyle activities.

Annual Physical Therapy/Physiotherapy Checkup

Dr. Sahrmann draws a parallel with the dentistry profession. People visit their dentist once or twice a year to check their teeth. The body is much more visible than are teeth and so should the need for bi-annual checkups of their movement system by a physical therapist/physiotherapist. They should check:

  • Posture, exercise routines as well as cardiovascular fitness.
  • Requirements to optimize their movement system.

The New Business Model

Finally, Dr. Sahrmann indicates that maybe this will require a change in business model.


This is the second in a series of interviews I had with Dr. Sahrmann. In the first interview we discussed her exercise program and approach to aging well. In the third and final interview I ask Dr. Sahrmann about the highlights and disappointments within her career.

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