The Role of Physical Therapy in Integrative Healthcare

By Marcia Spoto PT, DC, OCS

SpotoIntegrative health can be considered simply as the combination of traditional and alternative healthcare approaches in addressing the health needs of the individual. It represents an evolution in the way society views contemporary health practice. Under the older paradigm, “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM) was something outside of medicine, optional for some people, but lacking a scientific basis. So what has changed?

For one thing, the science has changed. In fact, the National Institute of Health (NIH) has sponsored research on CAM through its former National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). Through this research, they have been able to help the public sort among the options and provide evidence either in support, or not in support, of specific CAM therapies. This effort recognizes that a significant majority of Americans are utilizing CAM interventions, and that optimal application of these therapies occurs when they are combined with traditional approaches to care. Thus, this division of NIH has recently become the Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). Much more information can be found on their website:

So how does physical therapy fit in with integrative health? It could be argued that physical therapists have been practicing integrative health since the beginning of the profession in the early part of the 20th century. Many types of alternative or complimentary therapies, such as joint manipulation, relaxation exercise, and various movement disciplines (i.e. yoga, Pilates), are utilized by physical therapists along with more traditional forms of therapy such as patient education and conventional exercise. Physical therapists employ multiple types of therapies to treat musculoskeletal or nervous system conditions. The specific combination of therapies is determined by many factors, and physical therapists consider the whole patient in planning the most appropriate care. This is important because a foundational principle of integrative health is that it is holistic and patient-centered.

More people are choosing conservative approaches, like physical therapy, for musculoskeletal pain problems, and this parallels the growing interest in integrative health.

Marcia Spoto is a physical therapist and owner of STAR Physical Therapy in Fairport. She holds a Doctorate of Physical Therapy degree and she is certified as a clinical specialist in Orthopedic Physical Therapy (OCS). For more information, visit  or call 585-425-1018.