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Basic Physical Therapy Abbreviations and Terminology

If you’re going or have gone to a physical therapist (PT), you might notice that your chart is full of abbreviations and acronyms. While it might look like Greek to you, each abbreviation has a particular purpose and meaning. To keep yourself on top of your care, learn what the different physical therapy abbreviations and terms mean. 

Woman getting physical therapyWoman getting physical therapy

Common Physical Therapy Terminology

You broke a leg and now you’re in physical therapy. But what do all these terms that they're throwing at you actually mean? Get some of the basic terms and abbreviations that you might find at physical therapy. 

  • Activities of daily living (ADLs) - These are the activities that you do to care for yourself like bathing, dressing and feeding yourself. 

  • Assistive devices - You use these devices to assist in completing your normal daily activities. Examples include crutches and walkers. 

  • Deformity - This is when a body part or bone is different than what it normally would be. 

  • Fine motor - These are the small muscles and movements you have, like the ones you use for typing. 

  • Gross motor - These are the muscles you use for big movements, like walking or running. 

  • Manual therapy - In this therapeutic technique, the PT uses their hands to manipulate a body part back into the correct position. 

  • Rehabilitation program - The physical therapist designs this program for you. 

  • Range of motion (ROM) - This how well or how little you can move a specific body part. 

  • Weight-bearing - This terms describes whether or not you can bear your body weight when walking or moving. 

Abbreviations for PT Assistive Devices & Equipment

If you are going to physical therapy, it means that you are trying to improve your range of motion or reduce your pain. So, patients come into physical therapy with a lot of different assistive devices, and therapists use different equipment to help them.

Since there isn’t a lot of time to write down crutches and walkers, they use physical therapy abbreviations to keep it simple. Explore common physical therapy abbreviations for assistive devices and equipment. 

  • AD - Assistive device

  • CGA - Contact guard assist

  • CKC - Closed kinetic chain

  • CTx - Cervical traction

  • FWW - Front-wheeled walker

  • LBQC - Large-base quad cane

  • NBQC - Narrow base quad cane

  • OKC - Open kinetic chain

  • PUW - Pick-up walker

  • QC - Quad cane

  • RW - Rolling walker

  • SBQC - Small base quad cane

  • SC - Straight cane

  • SLR - Straight leg raise

  • SPC - Single-point cane

  • SW - Standard walker

  • TM - Treadmill

  • Trxn - Traction

  • UBE - Upper body ergometer

  • WBQC - Wide-base quad cane

  • WC (or w/c) - Wheelchair

  • WW - Wheeled walker

  • 4WW - Four-wheeled walker

Exercise & Treatment Abbreviations

After your initial assessment, your PT is going to set a treatment course to help improve your life. These therapeutic modalities might include exercises and other forms of treatment, like ultrasound and electrical stimulation, to get things up and moving again. These treatment abbreviations will be used to improve inflammation, circulation and pain. 

  • CP - Cold pack

  • EEG - Electroencephalogram

  • Estim or ES - Electrical stimulation

  • HEP - Home exercise program

  • HP - Hot pack

  • Inv - Inversion

  • Ionto - Iontophoresis

  • ITB - Iliotibial band

  • LP - Leg press

  • MFR - Myofascial release

  • MHP - Moist hot pack

  • MMT - Manual muscle test

  • NDT - Neurodevelopmental technique

  • NMES - Neuromuscular electrical stimulation

  • Pfin - Paraffin bath

  • Phono - Phonophoresis

  • PNF - Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation

  • SB - Side bending (or Swiss ball)

  • TENS - Transcutaneous electrical neuromuscular stimulation

  • Ther Ex - Therapeutic exercise

  • US - Ultrasound

Body & Diagnosis Abbreviations

Physical therapy is a medical field, which means that all your body parts have abbreviations. This includes even the ones that aren’t functioning at their best. To find out what your disease, diagnosis or body part abbreviation means, check them here. 

  • ACJ - Acromioclavicular Joint

  • ACL - Anterior Cruciate Ligament

  • AFO - Ankle Foot Orthosis

  • AKA - Above Knee Amputation

  • BKA -  Below Knee Amputation

  • CABG - Coronary artery bypass graft (open heart surgery)

  • CP - Cerebral palsy

  • DDD - Degenerative disc disease

  • DJD - Degenerative joint disease

  • GHJ - Glenohumeral joint

  • HKAFO - Hip-knee-ankle foot orthosis

  • HNP - Herniated nucleus pulposus (herniated disc)

  • KAFO - Knee, ankle and foot orthosis

  • LCL - Lateral collateral ligament

  • LE - Lower extremity

  • LSO - Lumbosacral orthosis

  • MCL - Medial collateral ligament

  • PCL - Posterior cruciate ligament

  • PFS - Patellofemoral syndrome

  • PD - Peritoneal dialysis

  • PEG - Percutaneous endoscopic gastrotomy

  • PICC - Peripherally inserted central catheter

  • PLIF - Posterior lumbar interbody fusion

  • RC - Rotator cuff

  • TB - TheraBand, tuberculosis

  • THA - Total hip arthroplasty

  • THR - Total hip replacement

  • TKA - Total knee arthroplasty

  • TKR - Total knee replacement

  • TLSO - Thoracic lumbar sacral orthosis

  • TLIF - Transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion

  • TMJ - Temporomandibular joint

  • UD - Ulnar deviation

Position & Common Abbreviations

Not every term fits nice and neatly under a header. There are just some common or positional terms used in medicine, like "beats per minute" and "head of the bed." Common physical therapy abbreviations you might see in PT charts or prescriptions include: 

  • BPM - Beats per minute

  • C/O - Complains of

  • EOB - Edge of bed

  • H/o - History of

  • HOB - Head of bed

  • Horiz - Horizontal

  • I (or Ind) - Independent

  • L - Left

  • LTG - Long-term goals

  • OOB - Out of bed

  • PMX (or PMHx) - Past medical history

  • Pt - Patient

  • Q - Every

  • QD - Every day

  • QID - Four times a day

  • R - Right

  • RICE - Rest, ice, compression, elevation

  • S (with a line over a lowercase S) - Without

  • SBA - Stand-by assist

  • STS - Sit-to-stand

  • TID - Three times a day

  • Total A - Total assist

  • WFL - Within functional limits

  • WNL - Within normal limits

  • # – pounds

Medical & Other Term Abbreviations

Some physical therapy abbreviations that you come across are less common and more medical in nature. Not only might they cover medical degree abbreviations, but also varying levels of independence. Learn what "ICD-10" and "Mod I" mean. 

  • B - Bilateral

  • BMI - Body mass index

  • BOS - Base of support

  • Ex Lap - Exploratory laparotomy or laparoscopy

  • FIM - Functional independence level (also called FIM score)

  • Fx - Fracture

  • I (or Ind) - Independent

  • I&D - Incision and drainage (debridement)

  • ICD-10 - 10th revision: International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems

  • LOA - Level of assist

  • LOS - Length of stay

  • MD - Medical doctor

  • Mm - Muscle

  • Mod I - Modified independent

  • RN - Registered nurse

  • RT - Respiratory therapist/therapy

  • Rx - Treatment

  • UE - Upper extremity

Movement Abbreviations

Range of motion is one common reason that you are going to physical therapy. You might be trying to get rotation back into your shoulder or extend into a new range of motion after a back surgery. Whatever the case, when it comes to range of motion, you’ll find lots of different PT abbreviations. 

  • AAROM: - Active assistive range of motion

  • ABD - Abduction

  • ADD - Adduction

  • AROM - Active range of motion

  • Amb - Ambulation

  • CPM - Continuous passive motion

  • DF - Dorsiflexion

  • ER - External rotation

  • EV - Eversion

  • Ex - Exercise

  • Ext (or /) - Extension

  • Flex (or ✓) - Flexion

  • FWB - Full weight-bearing

  • IR - Internal rotation

  • LAQ - Long-arc quad

  • Max A - Maximum assist

  • Min A - Minimum assist

  • Mob - Mobilization

  • NWB - Non-weight bearing

  • PF - Plantarflexion

  • Pro - Pronation

  • PROM - Passive range of motion

  • PWB - Partial weight-bearing

  • RD - Radial deviation

  • ROM - Range of motion

  • Rot - Rotation

  • SAQ - Short arc quad

  • STM - Soft tissue mobilization

  • STS - Sit-to-stand

  • Sup - Supination

  • TDWB - Touch-down weight bearing

  • TTWB - Toe-touch weight bearing

  • WBAT - Weight-bearing as tolerated

Conquering PT Abbreviations

It was a lot, but you've made your way through physical therapy abbreviations like a champ. When you see it, you’ll now know the difference between a "SAQ" and "STM." To really push your medical terminology to top shelf, you might try checking out abbreviations after doctors’ names. Then, you’ll know when you need an AuD or a DMD.

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