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What every patient needs to know about DPTs (including what DPT means)

DPT Meaning
4 minutes, 2 seconds

What every patient needs to know about DPTs (including what DPT means)

Did you notice that some physical therapists have the letters DPT at the end of their name? What does that mean, anyway? 

DPT stands for Doctor of Physical Therapy, an advanced degree that indicates that the physical therapist studied in a three-year doctorate program after undergraduate school. Physical therapists are now required to complete a doctorate in physical therapy before they are allowed to practice. However, physical therapists who completed their education before 2015 don’t necessarily have to acquire a DPT degree.

Knowing some of the key details of a DPT can help you better understand how their expertise can address your injury or condition. It can also help you prepare for your upcoming physical therapy appointment

How is a DPT trained? 

A Doctor in Physical Therapy has trained for several years to be able to practice at a clinic, hospital, school or outpatient setting. If a physical therapist has a DPT at the end of their name, it means that they have done all of the following: 

  • Completed an undergraduate degree, or four years of schooling — A DPT’s undergraduate degree doesn’t necessarily have to relate to the physical therapy field. However, to enter the doctorate program, undergraduate students need to complete specific physical therapy prerequisites.
  • Completed a three-year doctorate program specific to the physical therapy field — A physical therapist's classes may have included in-depth studies of anatomy, physiology, sports science, neurology, pharmacology and more. Many DPT programs also require an end-of-program research project.
  • Completed several clinical rotations — While students in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program do not have to complete traditional residencies or fellowship programs, they do have to complete clinical rotations. In these clinicals, incoming physical therapists work closely with licensed therapists.
  • Completed a minimum of seven years of school and passed the national exam — Physical therapists must pass the National Physical Therapy Examination in their state in order to be licensed and practice as a physical therapist. At the completion of their program and exam, DPTs are skilled and trained. However, this does not mean that DPTs are physicians. They cannot diagnose or prescribe medication.


What does it mean if your physical therapist doesn’t have a DPT? 

If your physical therapist doesn’t have a DPT, don’t worry. Many working physical therapists don't have a DPT, but they can still legally practice. 

The American Physical Therapy Association had planned that all incoming physical therapists must complete a DPT degree for entry-level physical therapy by 2020. However, older therapists with bachelor's or master's degrees can continue practicing under their credentials. Having a DPT doesn’t always mean that a physical therapist is more skilled than a physical therapist who doesn’t have a DPT. 

What types of services do DPTs offer? 

Physical therapists with a DPT are experts in movement. If you’ve lost mobility due to an accident, injury or chronic illness, a DPT can help you regain your mobility. DPTs use a variety of physical therapy techniques to treat a range of musculoskeletal disorders. Whether you have nerve damage, joint damage, muscle tears or repetitive strains, a DPT can work with you to regain movement by performing: 

  • Joint mobilization techniques.
  • Strengthening exercises. 
  • Balance exercises
  • Soft tissue mobilization. 
  • Electrical stimulation therapy. 
  • Aquatic therapy

What are the benefits of working with a DPT?

If your physical therapist has a DPT, it means they are incredibly knowledgeable about the body's systems. Whether you injured yourself or need rehab after surgery, your therapist is trained to recognize why your movement is being impaired. You should work with a DPT because they can help:

  • Improve your mobility — Range-of-motion exercises and stretches can help release your stiff joints and tense muscles. A physical therapist can also fit you for assistive devices like canes and braces to temporarily help improve your mobility.
  • Decrease your pain —Therapists use medication-free techniques that are designed to reduce pain. Techniques like soft tissue mobilization and electrical stimulation therapy can help reduce your pain long-term.
  • Lower your costs —Expensive doctor visits can often be avoided by seeing a physical therapist first. You can even receive physical therapy treatments via telehealth. Doing so can reduce your number of clinic visits, saving you money on transportation costs.
  • Personalize your care — Physical therapy sessions are one-on-one environments in which you can have open communication with your DPT. This means that they can also consult with your physicians and surgeons to make sure that your treatment fully addresses your medical history and current needs.

Alliance PTP is ready to help you find a top-notch DPT for your condition

Want to know more about what a DPT means and how they can help you ease your pain? At Alliance Physical Therapy Partners, we’re proudly bringing together physical therapy practices across the country to help people get the high-quality PT they need. 


Want to see a physical therapist in person? We can put you in touch with an Alliance PTP partner that’s close to you and that can help you find a DPT that meets your needs. 


Not keen on in-person PT sessions or not close to an Alliance PTP partner? No worries. We also offer effective and affordable virtual physical therapy through our Agile Virtual Physical Therapy platform. 


Come find an experienced, caring DPT who can help treat your injury or chronic condition.


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