How to Integrate Nutrition in PT Practice

Apr 25, 2019

How to Integrate Nutrition in PT Practice

By Dr. Sean M. Wells, DPT, PT, OCS, ATC/L, CSCS, CNPT, NSCA-CPT, Cert-DN

Many physical therapists (PTs) seeking continuing education courses for manual therapy, specialized modalities, and new exercises, feel comfortable with the content before enrolling in the course. Afterall, most PTs had exposure to some, if not all, of these concepts in PT school and in practice. But what about nutrition training?

Like medical doctors the majority of DPTs today and nearly all of the graduate PTs with MS and BS degrees received little to no education in nutrition. Understandably this lack of knowledge leaves a riff in clinical practice and a desire to learn more to help a patient.

So, let’s dive into some ways for physical therapists to integrate PT into their practice. 

#1 Get The Basics

Understanding the basic components of nutrition is a must. Many clinicians think they must enroll in advanced online courses for supplementation, specialized dieting, and other speciality topics. The reality is that most patients need education on basic nutrition facts. Given this fact, PTs can easily engage patients about their diet by simply asking them what dietary pattern they follow. During a warm up exercise or manual therapy ask your patient to describe an average day of meals. In other words: tell me a little bit about what your breakfast, lunch, and dinner look like? Another easy hack is an at-home assessment like a 3 day diet diary, which can give a PT major insights about the most basic measures of a patient's diet. The perk is your patient fills it out at home and you interpret at the next visit, which saves you time and can be more expensive than a simple description of meals. Plus, you as the PT can decide what to do with the data: you could add another dietary assessment, you could provide dietary direction, or you could refer out to a dietician with actionable data for a rationale.


#2 Know Your Population

If you are a rehabilitation professional working in sports, then your clients will have different nutritional needs then that of a PT in a nursing home. Each population often have differing goals, needs, and resources. As such, you can easily hone your dietary queries, forms, and follow-ups based on your practice setting.

 For example, my student was working on a cardiac floor in a hospital. His patient had congestive heart failure (CHF). His room smelled of pastrami and french fries. My student was keen enough to ask him what he had eaten for lunch and then expanded his inquiry to a 24 recall before his admission. Turns out the patient was a frequent consumer of processed meats, refined bread, and little fruits and vegetables. The student realized that such a dietary pattern meant more readmissions and worsening CHF. As such, he ordered a nutritional consult from a dietician and ended the patient interaction, after mobility work, with a discussion on plant-based diet and a low-salt diet.

 The above student appreciated the dietary needs for cardiac patients, used his astute sense of smell and inquiry, and engage his patient about his diet specific to his problem. The same can be done with the sports PT who is helping athletes recover from a hard workout as quick as possible; or the neuro PT who wants to prevent bed sores from the inside-out using good nutrition. Knowing your patients makes a huge difference on incorporating nutrition into your practice.

#3 Get Educated

One of the best way PTs can weave nutrition into their practice (and charge for it) is to get educated! PTs can easily learn nutrition information from many sources. Some non-formalized sources include:

  1. The evidenced based and commercial free resource:
  2. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) official page for nutrition:
  3. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine:

These sources provide valuable research, specific PT resource (like practice act tips), and patient tools and kits for success, respectively.

Another great resource for PTs to learn nutrition education would be our online continuing education courses (CEU). Our courses are board-approved by a component of the APTA, are evidenced-based, and are broken down into 3 online courses. After the completion of the 3 courses the PT will earn the Certified Nutritional Physical Therapy (CNPT) credential, which may qualify you to provide nutrition in your respective State of practice. Enroll today, earn CEUs, and begin to help your whole patient now:


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Keywords: physical therapy courses, continuing education, online classes, nutrition classes, certified nutrition specialist


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