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Neurologic Differential Diagnosis for Physical Therapy

Sullivan, Katherine J. PhD, PT1; Hershberg, Julie DPT2; Howard, Robbin DPT1; Fisher, Beth E. PhD, PT2

Journal of Neurologic Physical Therapy: December 2004 - Volume 28 - Issue 4 - p 162–168
Special Interest Paper

It is well established that physical therapists are responsible for the formulation of the physical therapy diagnosis. Increasingly greater attention is being directed at the contribution that physical therapists make to the medical differential diagnosis. This process involves recognition by physical therapists of clinical findings that would require referral to another health care professional. In this article, we highlight the role of the physical therapist in the differential diagnosis for patients with neurologic pathology. We describe a framework for physical therapy clinical practice focused on determining appropriateness for physical therapy care for individuals with neurologic conditions. This framework can assist the physical therapist in gathering and interpreting the necessary information from the patient history and neurologic examination to identify patient problems that are within the scope of physical therapy practice. Case studies are used to demonstrate how the framework can be incorporated into clinical practice and to illustrate the role and skills required of physical therapists in order to effectively contribute to the differential diagnosis.

1Department of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California (

2Department of Physical Therapy, Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital

© 2004 Neurology Section, APTA