How will rehabilitation therapy help me get better?

with advice from Randy Gustafson, PT, MS, MOMT, OCS,
Michelle Kessell, OTR/L, CHT,
and Jan C. Key, MA, CCC/SLP

 How will rehabilitation therapy help me get better?

The goal of rehabilitation therapy is to improve a patient’s health and wellbeing after an injury or illness. It’s a broad umbrella term that covers a variety of therapies. At PTPN, the parent company of Physiquality, therapists fall into three categories: physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech/language pathology, sometimes referred to as speech therapy.

Physical therapy

Physical therapists are experts in biomechanics and the musculoskeletal and neuromuscular systems. In other words, says Randy Gustafson, the owner and director of Mesa Physical Therapy (a Physiquality network member in San Diego, California), “Their advanced degree focuses on learning everything about how the body moves.” Physical therapy incorporates specific exercises to strengthen muscles and improve function. Therapists utilize an integrated approach that includes modalities and manual therapy, he adds.

Many patients often see a physical therapist to strengthen and rehabilitate injuries in order to avoid surgery.PT is practiced in a variety of settings, from outpatient clinics to hospitals and skilled nursing facilities. While physical therapy is often thought of as the way to recuperate after a surgery, particularly in orthopedics (like a knee replacement or rotator cuff repair), many patients often see a physical therapist to strengthen and rehabilitate injuries in order to avoid surgery. And as patients and clinicians have turned their attention from reacting after an injury to preventing injuries and improving health, these patients — often athletes — have turned to physical therapists to condition muscles and joints, and to (hopefully) avoid injury altogether.

Occupational therapy

The word “occupation” in occupational therapy refers to any activity that a person spends time doing. Occupational therapist Michelle Kessell, who also works at Physiquality clinic Mesa Physical Therapy in San Diego, explains that “occupational therapy focuses on helping people get back to the daily activities with which they occupy their time,” often described in medical terms as activities of daily living, or ADLs. This can mean helping an injured employee get back to work, retraining patients on how to groom themselves, or helping people slowly get back to their favorite hobby.

Patients are referred to occupational therapy when they suffer pain or functional limitations due to a particular disability or disease, as well as after trauma, surgery or laceration. The American Occupational Therapy Association defines the practice of OT as having a holistic perspective, in which therapists adapt the environment or task to fit the person, and the person is an integral part of the therapy team. OTs often evaluate a client’s home or workplace in order to recommend adaptive equipment that will improve quality of life, while giving guidance on how best to use the equipment and adapt daily activities to the client’s limitations.

Speech-language pathology

 Speech-language pathologists assess and treat a variety of disorders related to communication and swallowing.Speech-language pathologists assess and treat a variety of disorders related to communication and swallowing. They might work with children who need help as they develop communication skills, or with adults who have impairments after a cerebrovascular accident (CVA) or brain injury, hearing loss, or progressive neurological disorders, explains speech-language pathologist Jan C. Key, who works at Pacific Therapy Services, a Physiquality network member in southern California.

SLPs work in a variety of settings, depending on the type of treatment they give. Those that work with children might work in a private practice or educational setting. Others work in hospitals and skilled nursing facilities, focusing on functional skills. Some even consult with companies on communication, teaching the staff a variety of skills, including voice control, social communication and diction.

Many therapists also complete extra education and certification in order to specialize. Physical therapists might focus on oncology patients, women’s health, or geriatrics. Speech-language pathologists might get certified to treat child language and language disorders; occupational therapists can earn special certifications in mental health or treating low vision.

Some specialties can apply to multiple licenses. For example, both physical and occupational therapists can earn certification as a hand therapist, like Michelle. CHTs help patients regain their fine motor skills by treating everything from the tip of the finger, or the wrist and elbow, all the way up to the shoulder, she explains. And treating swallowing disorders, also known as dysphagia, can be done by both occupational therapists and speech-language pathologists.

At the end of the day, these therapists work to help people feel better and live better lives. If you feel you might benefit from seeing a rehabilitation therapist, check our locator to see a list of Physiquality therapists that work in your neighborhood.


Randy Gustafson, PT, MS, MOMT, OCS
Michelle Kessell, OTR/L, CHT
Jan Key, MA, CCC/SLP

Randy Gustafson, PT, MS, MOMT, OCS, is the owner and director of Mesa Physical Therapy, a Physiquality network member in San Diego, California. Certified in manual therapy and as an orthopedic clinical specialist, Randy began practicing physical therapy in San Diego after earning his master’s degree from USC in 1983.

Michelle Kessell, OTR/L, CHT, is a licensed occupational therapist and certified hand therapist at Mesa Physical Therapy in San Diego. Michelle is passionate about helping patients recover their function and educating them about how to continue to maintain the highest quality of life possible.

Jan C. Key, MA, CCC/SLP, is a speech/language pathologist at Pacific Therapy Services, a Physiquality network member with three locations in southern California. Jan has taken intermediate and advanced American Sign Language classes at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., as well as numerous courses and seminars on autism, apraxia, dysphagia, memory, voice, fluency, cochlear implants and auditory processing.


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For further reading, look through our selection of articles on health and wellness, in addition to the below links:

American Physical Therapy Association. Who are physical therapists? November 24, 2015.


Richards, Mark. The role of physical agent modalities in therapy. Advance Healthcare Network for Physical Therapy and Rehab Medicine, February 3, 2011.

American Occupational Therapy Association.

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

The evidence-based practice of joint manipulation/manual therapy. SportsCare Physical Therapy.

Activities of daily living. National Parkinson’s Foundation.

The material and information contained on this Web site is for information only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or consultation.

Consult your personal physician before beginning any exercise program or self-treatment.