What is Integrative Physical Therapy? How is it different from just regular PT?

patient with integrative physical therapist doing yoga stretches, integrative pt, integrative physical therapy, myofascial restrictions, craniosacral manual therapy, alternative pt, catherine justice, yoga therapy, holistic stretching

This is a question I hear almost daily in my work at Hennepin. And it’s a great question because right now Integrative PT is an emerging but nationally undefined specialty. Here at Hennepin, we have four fabulous physical therapists who specialize in an integrative and holistic approach to healing and our team recently brainstormed on what distinguishes our work from that of a more traditional physical therapy approach.

Generally, the goal of physical therapy is to restore function in the body – we help stretch and open areas of the body that are tight, we help strengthen where things are weak, we restore balance and cardiovascular health, etc. Physical therapists in general (regardless of their specialty) are highly skilled providers – most of us have Doctor degrees and we all understand how the neuromusculoskeletal systems interconnect. But with Integrative PT, we operate from a slightly different paradigm with our care – that of healing the body/mind connection, helping people reconnect with their body in a more authentic and compassionate way. In our recent brainstorm, the Integrative PT team came up with a mission statement to better articulate our unique approach:

Our mission is to inspire patients to find joy, strength, confidence, trust, compassion, and purpose in fostering a deep connection with their body and their breath, for improved well-being throughout their lifetime.

Another distinguishing aspect of Integrative PT is our systems approach to body/mind/spirit wellbeing. No matter what the diagnosis that someone comes to see us with, we always do a head-to-toe evaluation – paying close attention to posture, myofascial (defined as thin, strong, fibrous connective tissue that extends through the whole body and supports and protects muscles and bones) restrictions, and how the different systems of the body interact to create dysfunction. We’ve been known to trace someone’s neck pain to an old ankle sprain, or their lower back pain to a digestive problem. Almost everyone who sees us has a ramped-up stress response and much of our work is focused on calming and rejuvenating the body’s natural relaxation response to decrease their allostatic load (the negative physical effects of chronic stress). Because we’re always looking for these system-wide connections, the modalities (ways) we utilize tend to be holistic in nature as well – therapeutic yoga, myofascial or CranioSacral manual therapy, postural/movement retraining, breathing practices, lifestyle coaching, etc.

Integrative physical therapy offers a holistic approach to physical therapy care that focuses on working with the whole person, targeting root dysfunctions, maximizing the body’s self-healing mechanisms, regulating the stress response, and paying close attention to the connection between the mind, body, and spirit.

I’ve been working as an Integrative Physical therapist here at Hennepin for over 7 years and every day I am challenged to uncover a new mystery as to why people hurt, why their body doesn’t move in a way that serves their life. Somedays I feel like a detective – hunting down clues in a person’s story or movement pattern. Other days my work feels like that of a garbage collector – helping to clear away roadblocks to healing. Everyday I get to witness people moving and connecting with their bodies in deeper and more profound ways. It’s incredible.

This summer I’ve been invited as a Keynote Speaker for the Global Yoga Therapy Day conference with a talk entitled “The Yoga Mat and the Lab Coat – Transforming Integrative Medicine with Yoga Therapy”. https://globalyogatherapyday.com/gytd2021/ In that talk I’ll be highlighting our unique physical therapy specialty and talking more specifically on how yoga influences our integrative approach. This international conference will be from Aug. 13-15, it’s online and free!

We have a one-of-a-kind program here at Hennepin, but as the field of Integrative Physical Therapy grows and evolves we have the opportunity to be a national leader for a new approach to healing and rehabilitation. My hope is that others will be inspired by my Global Yoga Therapy Day talk to build Integrative Physical Therapy programs in their hospital, clinic, or practice. Patients are hungry for this mind/body approach to their healing and when healthcare systems invest in training and supporting their providers to practice with integrative approaches to wellbeing, the whole community thrives.

Catherine Justice, PT, DPT, CST, C-IAYT, E-RYT is an integrative physical therapist and sees patients in the Integrative Health Clinic in the Clinic & Specialty Center.

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  1. April Bartoletti on May 7, 2021 at 1:02 pm

    Thank you for this article, Catherine!

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