Glossary of Physical Therapy Terms

We've compiled a glossary of physical therapy terms from around the web to help get you up to speed on general PT terms and definitions. To view additional physical therapy billing terms, please visit our Billing Guide for Physical Therapists.


American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA)

The AOTA is a U.S.-based organization representing more than 63,000 member occupational therapists, occupational therapy assistants and students. The AOTA publishes the American Journal of Occupational Therapy, the premiere publication for occupational therapy research. The organization also hosts the annual AOTA Conference & Expo.

American Physical Therapy Association (APTA)

The APTA is a U.S.-based organization representing more than 100,000 member physical therapists. This association advocates on behalf of the profession and for issues that impact the health and well being of our society. The APTA also holds two annual conferences and publishes the Physical Therapy Journal, which is the leading international journal for research in the physical therapy field.

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)

ASHA is an international organization with nearly 200,000 member speech-language pathologists, audiologists and speech, language and hearing scientists from around the world. ASHA's mission is to promote the interests of and provide the highest quality services for professionals in audiology, speech-language pathology and speech and hearing science. The group also advocates for those with communication disabilities.

Amputation (AKA and BKA)

BKA is the physical therapy abbreviation for ‘below knee amputation’ whereas ‘AKA’ is the physical therapy abbreviation for ‘above knee amputation’. By working with patients before and after amputation surgery, physical therapists can help patients get back to their activities of daily living (ADL) through a combination of strength and conditioning exercises, prosthetic and functional training.


Arthroplasty is a term that describes the surgical reconstruction (or replacement) of a joint with artificial components. Different joints in the body can be replaced, but arthroplasty is most commonly performed on the knee and hip. The physical therapy abbreviations for these two procedures are ‘THA’ for total hip arthroplasty and ‘TKA’ for total knee arthroplasty.

Assistive Device

An assistive device is used to help those with injuries, disabilities or impairment to maintain their independence and continue with their activities of daily living (ADL). Examples of assistive devices that might be used by patients receiving occupational therapy and/or physical therapy include a prosthesis, a large base quad cane or an ankle foot orthosis.


Bill Pay

Bill pay refers to payment processing platforms that allow patients to pay their bills via online, mobile and telephone banking. Many of the systems also send patients automated balance alerts and keep them engaged throughout the billing cycle. Bill pay systems help therapists increase their collections as well. Learn more about StrataPT's Mobile Bill Pay solution.

Business Metrics

Business metrics, also called KPIs (key performance indicators) display a measurable value that shows the progress of a company’s business goals. Business metrics that physical therapists should be consistently tracking are sales revenues, gross margins, monthly profit/loss, overhead costs, cancellation percentages, clinical productivity, monthly website traffic and conversion percentage. Learn more about how StrataPT can assist you with gaining full transparency into your business metrics.


Comprehensive Outpatient Rehabilitation Facility (CORF)

A CORF (comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation facility) is a federally certified non-residential facility that provides outpatient diagnostic, therapeutic and restorative services for the rehabilitation of a patient’s injury, disability or disease. A CORF must include (at the minimum): physician services, physical therapy services, social or psychological services. Learn more about CORFs: what they are and billing guidelines



Insurers require clinical documentation. At a minimum, physical therapists need to draw up SOAP (Subjective, Objective, Assessment, Plan) notes, progress notes, and discharge summaries. But most insurers will ask for a lot more information before they process and pay claims—and the exact nature of the documentation required also tends to differ among different insurance providers. Learn more about how StrataPT can help you keep on top of the documentation needed for PT clinics.


Electronic Health Record (EHR)

Similar to electronic medical record (EMR), which is used by clinicians primarily for diagnosis and treatment, however 'health' covers a lot more than medical. Health refers to the condition of being in sound body, mind and spirit. It can mean freedom from disease or pain. Thus, EHRs can cover a lot more information than EMRs. Learn more about the difference between EMRs and EHRs.

Electronic Medical Record (EMR)

EMRs are a digital version of all the information that you would typically find in the paper charts found in a clinician’s office. This information may include medical history, diagnoses, medications, immunization dates, allergies, lab results and physician notes. Learn more about the difference between EMRs and EHRs.


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Electronic Visit Verification (EVV)

EVV is a system that verifies the occurrence of home-based, or community-based, service visits. EVV identifies the time that the service provision begins and ends to ensure accurate disbursement. It also ensures that the authorized beneficiaries get the expected care they are entitled to. EVV helps to combat fraud, eliminate billing data entry mistakes and reduce costs related to paper billing and payroll. Learn more about Electronic Visit Verification (EVV) for physical therapists.


Functional Limits

Once the physical therapist has measured the range of motion (ROM) for a specific joint or muscle, they can then determine whether that range is ‘within normal limits’ (WNL), or, if the range is more limited. If a physical therapist or occupational therapist determines that the range is still enough to allow the patient to continue their activities of daily living (ADL) the range is categorized as ‘within functional limits’, or ‘WFL’.

Functional Mobility

In physical therapy, functional mobility describes how well someone can accomplish activities of daily living (ADL). After an injury, illness or surgery, these activities are likely to take place in the patient’s home. Functional mobility in the home is divided into different areas by the physical therapist, including ‘bed mobility’, ‘transfers’ (for example moving from the bed to a chair) and ‘ambulation’ (the patient’s ability to walk, including whether they need an assistive device).


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Home Exercise Program

A home exercise program is a program of therapeutic exercises that aim to build a patient’s strength and or flexibility—thereby helping them achieve their long-term goals (LTG). The exercises prescribed by the physical therapist may also involve the use of equipment, such as free weights and TheraBands.


In-Home Physical Therapy

Like mobile physical therapy, in-home PT is outpatient therapy that is performed in the patient’s home rather than at an outpatient therapy clinic. In home physical therapy is for anyone that may have a limitation of the ability to attend treatment sessions at a clinic due to physical limitations or transportation issues. Learn more about solutions for In-Home Physical Therapists.


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Knee Ligament Injury

Knee injuries are common, so there are various physical therapy abbreviations for the ligaments involved. These include the ‘ACL’, or the ‘anterior cruciate ligament’; the ‘LCL’ or the ‘lateral collateral ligament’; the ‘MCL’, or the ‘medial collateral ligament’ and the ‘PCL’, or the ‘posterior cruciate ligament’.


Level of Assist (LOA)

In order to stay functionally mobile, the occupational therapist or physical therapist may decide that the patient may need specific assistance. This is categorized according to various levels, such as ‘maximal assist’, ‘contact guard assist’ (where a patient needs a hand from the physical therapist to aid their balance) and, where no assistance is needed, ‘independent’.


Mobile Physical Therapy

Like In-home physical therapy, mobile PT is outpatient therapy that is performed in the patient’s home rather than at an outpatient therapy clinic. Mobile physical therapy is for anyone that may have a limitation of the ability to attend treatment sessions at a clinic due to physical limitations or transportation issues. Learn more about solutions for Mobile Physical Therapists.

Muscle Test

A muscle test is used in physical therapy to objectively evaluate the strength of a particular muscle or muscle group. A common grading system, called the ‘Oxford Scale’ or ‘Medical Research Council Manual Muscle Testing Scale’ has the physical therapist grade the strength of muscle groups in the upper and lower extremities. Examples of movements and joints that can be assessed include hip adduction, knee flexion, forearm supination, ankle dorsiflexion, forearm pronation, cervical spine rotation, wrist flexion with ulnar deviation, internal rotation and external rotation of the hip.


Neurodevelopmental Treatment (NDT)

NDT, a physical therapy abbreviation for neurodevelopmental treatment’ is a type of therapy that aims to help adults and children who have trouble coordinating their movement because of an injury to the head, a stroke, cerebral palsy or some other neurological problem. NDT therapy uses repeated therapeutic exercises to help patients increase their range of movement patterns. It is used by both physical therapists and occupational therapists as well as speech-language therapists.


Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy is performed at a patient’s home or an outpatient clinic. Occupational therapists work with patients to help them carry out everyday tasks (‘occupations’) at home, work and school. Some outpatient clinics only offer occupational therapy, whereas others offer this type of therapy alongside other treatments, such as physical therapy. Learn more about software solutions for occupational therapists.


Part A

When you qualify for Medicare, you are usually enrolled in Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B. Part A is hospital insurance (compared to Part B, which is medical insurance) and generally covers inpatient hospital stays, skilled nursing care, hospice care and limited home health care services.

Part B

Medicare Part B is medical insurance (compared to Part A which is hospital insurance) and generally covers doctor office visits, physical therapy, preventative services (tests, screenings, etc), flu and pneumococcal shots, mental health care, chemotherapy and durable medical equipment (wheelchairs, etc). In most cases, under Part B, the Medicare patient will be required to pay 20% of the Medicare-approved amount for each item or service, plus deductible, if any. Learn how to seamlessly start or transition your practice to Part B.

Patient Benefit Verification

Once a patient's insurance eligibility is confirmed, a verification of benefits provides a deeper look into what the payer actually covers for that patient. Please see our Patient Benefit Verification Guide for a step-by-step script for those times you may need to speak to an actual payer representative to verify patient benefits.

Patient Engagement

Patient engagement refers to the level at which patients are actively involved in the decisions regarding their health, wellness and care. The higher the patient engagement, the more the patient is empowered to ask a question and request information about their treatment plan. Patients who are engaged as decision-makers in their care tend to be healthier and experience better outcomes. Learn how to enhance the relationship with your patients.

Patient Experience

Patient experience is defined by the sum of all interactions, shaped by an organization’s culture, that influence patient perceptions across the continuum of care. The patient experience begins with the first impression that an office staff member makes with the patient and continues until the very last interaction. Learn more about how to improve the patient experience in your practice.

Patient Insurance Eligibility

A patient's insurance card is not a gaurantee of eligibility. The provider is responsible for verifying a patient's current enrollment status before providing care. In order to verify a patient's eligilibity, a provider can do this in a couple of ways: insurance websites, clearinghouses, call the payer directly or through your EMR.

Patient-Driven Groupings Model (PDGM)

The Patient-Driven Groupings Model (PDGM) is a payment system first introduced by Medicare in 2020. The system reorganized home health periods of care into different payment categories and eliminated therapy thresholds as a primary determinant of reimbursement. PDGM has also broken up payment from the previous standard 60-day episode of care into 30-day periods. Learn more about the PDGM and how it will affect your physical therapy practice.

Physical Therapy Specialism

Some physical therapists choose to complete further training and gain certification in a specific type of physical therapy practice. Currently, there are ten different speciality areas offered by the APTA (American Physical Therapy Association) certification, including orthopedics, sports, neurology and women’s health.

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation, sometimes also called ‘PNF stretching’ is a technique that can be used to improve both a patient’s active range of motion (AROM) and passive range of motion (PROM). Physical therapists tend to use PNF stretching to improve musculoskeletal range of motion after injury or surgery, but PNF is also used by some athletes to improve flexibility and boost performance.


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Range of Motion (ROM)

Range of motion (physical therapy abbreviation: ROM) describes the degree to which a joint or muscle can be moved or stretched. Physical therapists categorize range of motion according to whether it can be achieved actively or passively. Common physical therapy abbreviations used to describe these categories include ‘PROM’, or ‘passive range of motion’ (ROM achieved using an outside force), ‘AAROM’, or ‘active assisted range of motion’ (ROM achieved using some outside force) and ‘AROM’, or ‘Active range of motion’ (ROM achieved with no outside assistance).

Revenue Cycle Management (RCM)

Revenue cycle management is the administration of financial transactions that result from the medical encounters between a patient and a provider. RCM tracks the revenue from patients, from their initial appointment to their final payment of the balance. These transactions include billing, collections, payer contracting, provider enrollment, coding, data analytics, management and compliance. Learn more about Revenue Cycle Management.


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Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

Sometimes referred to as software robotics, RPA is an application of technology, governed by business logic, aimed at automating business processes. Just like people, RPA can perform tasks like understanding what’s on a screen, complete the right keystrokes, navigate systems, identify and extract data as well as perform a wide range of defined actions. However, RPA can do these tasks much faster and more consistently than people. Learn how your practice can benefit from robotic process automation.


Soft Tissue Mobilization

Soft tissue mobilization is an umbrella term for a range of hands-on techniques where the physical therapist applies pressure to structures of the body that are causing pain. Soft tissue mobilization techniques employed by physical therapists include myofascial release (releasing tightness in the fascia), trigger point therapy, effleurage and use of deep transverse friction.

Spinal Manipulation Therapy (SMT)

Spinal manipulation therapy is used by physical therapists to treat conditions of the musculoskeletal system, including neck and back pain. During treatment with SMT, the physical therapist applies careful pressure to joints along the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine. The physical therapist can also manipulate the spine into certain positions using specific movements, such as side bending.


Therapeutic Modalities

‘Therapeutic Modalities’ refers to the range of treatment methods that physical therapists commonly use alongside exercise programs and manual techniques. Therapeutic modalities, which use electromagnetic, heat and/or mechanical energy, are thought to help a patient achieve their long-term goals (LTG) which may include: reducing pain and inflammation, increasing range of motion (ROM) and improving circulation. Examples of therapeutic modalities used by physical therapists include ultrasound, mechanical traction and thermotherapy.

Transcutaneous Electrical Neuromuscular Stimulation (TENS)

Transcutaneous electrical neuromuscular stimulation, sometimes referred to by physical therapists as ‘TENS’, is a method of managing pain using a small electrical current provided by a TENS machine. The electrical current provided by the TENS machine can help override the patient’s sensation of pain, thereby promoting the release of endorphins and relaxation of the muscles. TENS can be used to relieve pain from a range of musculoskeletal conditions including arthritis, knee pain and sports injuries.


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Weight Bearing (WB)

A patient may have been given a weight bearing, ‘WB’, status grade from their medical practitioner after injury or surgery. WB grades include ‘FWB’ or ‘full weight bearing’; ‘WBAT’ or ‘weight bearing status as tolerated’; ‘PWB’ or ‘partial weight bearing’; and ‘NWB’ or ‘non-weight bearing’. WB grades can also be more specific. For example, ‘TTWB’ or ‘toe touch weight bearing’ means the patient can’t support weight through the affected limb but can touch their toes or foot to the ground, ‘NWB LLE’ refers to ‘non-weight bearing left lower extremity’ (from hips to toes) and NWB RLE means ‘non-weight bearing right lower extremity’ (from hips to toes).


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