Essential Reading List – The Best Physical Therapy, Athletic Training, and Strength and Conditioning Books


UPDATE: This list has been revised, you can find the latest Essential Reading List here.


As we have been discussing the last couple of weeks, I wanted to create a comprehensive list of recommended books, sort of a best book or an “Essential Reading List” for physical therapists, athletic trainers, strength and conditioning specialists, and really any other type of rehabilitation specialists.  The goal was to include the best books that I felt were influential in my development and clinical practice.  To take this one step further, I have been accumulating lists of essential readings and top book recommendations from several leaders, pioneers, and influential clinicians in our fields.

They were all asked to provide a list of recommended books that they felt impacted their career and clinical development, helping to shape their current expertise.

I published several past posts on essential reading lists from experts such as George Davies, Leon Chaitow, Sue Falsone, Eric Cressey, and Ken Crenshaw, all people that I truly admire, respect, and have certainly learned from.  Notice that I tried to include people from different disciplines as I believe we can all learn from each other and grow together.  If you missed any of them, be sure to view contributions to the The Essential Reading List Series by other expert clinicians:

I always like asking what other people are reading and learning, think of this as a glimpse into the bookcase of myself and other experts!  Below is my summary and recommendations for books that I believe are essential reading for every physical therapist, assistant, athletic training, strength and conditioning specialist and other rehabilitation specialists.  I hope that there a few new ones on the list that will broaden your perspective and clinical skills.


Best Physical Therapy Books

The following section of books provide overviews on a broad range of topics and, as you can see, build from general musculoskeletal rehab to more advanced orthopedic and sports medicine topics.  These should be of interest to all, not just physical therapists, as they provide a great amount of information regarding injuries and treatment that may not otherwise be covered in athletic training or strength and conditioning books:

  • image Pathology and Intervention in Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation – Magee, Zachazewski, Quillen.  A very detailed book for such a general topic, a good place to start when learning musculoskeletal rehabilitation.
  • Clinical Orthopedic Rehabilitation – Brotzman and Wilk.  A little more specific to orthopedics than the Magee book above, this book does well at covering a lot of topics.
  • Physical Rehabilitation of the Injured Athlete – Andrews, Harrelson, Wilk. Good overview book that is now getting more specific to athletes (see the progression of the book so far?).
  • Sports Medicine (Orthopaedic Surgery Essentials Series) – Schepsis, Busconi.  A general overview of many topics related specifically to sports medicine.  This series of books does a good job reviewing the broad topics from the perspective of the entire sports medicine team including physicians and rehabilitation specialists.
  • Therapeutic Exercise: Foundations and Techniques – Kisner & Colby.  This is a classic that continues to be revised frequently.  Reviews a significant amount of exercise techniques commonly used in rehabilitation.  This is one of the first books often included in physical therapy curriculums so may be of benefit to those not in the PT field.


Best Rehabilitation Books – Extremities

After tackling the general rehabilitation topics, many people are then interested in specializing in specific joints.  While excellent overviews, the books above are not designed to go into great detail.  Consider the list below the next step in becoming more specific and advancing your knowledge with individual joints.

  • image The Athlete’s Shoulder – Wilk, Reinold, Andrews.  I hate to include my own book, but this truly is the most current and comprehensive resource of the treatment of the shoulder.  Covers every imaginable topic related to the shoulder with an excellent list of expert contributors.  You won’t be disappointed.
  • Postsurgical Orthopaedic Sports Rehab Knee & Shoulder – Manske.  Dedicated specifically to postoperative treatment, which is often minimized and even overlooked in some books.
  • Noyes’ Knee Disorders: Surgery, Rehabilitation, Clinical Outcomes – Noyes.  This one is about to be hot off the press and released this month.  A long overdo book by one of the leading experts in the care of the Knee.  This books is going to be a classic.  I was fortunate to contribute a chapter and be involved.
  • Knee Ligament Rehabilitation – Ellenbecker.  A great book but I would actually say that the title is a little misleading, I think the book applies to the knee in general as there are chapters dedicated to anatomy, biomechanics, and even patellofemoral that are not specific to “knee ligaments.”
  • image The Athlete’s Elbow – Altchek, Andrews.  Discusses the elbow in great detail, however is lacking in rehabilitation
  • The Elbow in Sport – Ellenbecker.  Amazingly, this is one of the few elbow rehabilitation books available.  Compliments The Athlete’s Elbow well.
  • The Elbow and It’s Disorders – Morrey.  The authority on the elbow.  Very detailed but very dry.  Probably only for people truly wanting to specialize in the elbow.  That being said, the anatomy and biomechanics chapters are outstanding.
  • The Shoulder – Rockwood.  Similar to above, Rockwood’s classic has been recently updated and can be considered the gold standard in general shoulder books, fantastic but contains information that goes well beyond the needs of a rehabilitation specialist.


Best Rehabilitation Books – Spine

Good spine books are actually hard to come by, which makes the following books even more essential.  The first group of books are general overviews, but excellent additions to your library.

  • image Low Back Disorders: Evidence based prevention and rehab – McGill.  This one was popular with the other expert’s as well.  This is a must have book in the care of the spine.  McGill is one of the leading experts in spine rehabilitation.  His approach is simple, effective, and backed by evidence.
  • Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance – McGill.  Eric Cressey summed this book up well – “With the prevalence of lower back problems in the general population, all of Dr. McGill’s works are must-reads. I tend to favor this one over Low Back Disorders because it’s updated more frequently (third edition, now), and places a big emphasis on prevention and not just treatment.”
  • Rehabilitation of the Spine: A practitioner’s Manual – Liebenson.  Another popular book among the other contributors.  As Leon Chaitow describes – “As a young chiropractic student, Craig Liebenson, was responsible for bringing Janda, Lewit, and others (including David Simons, Irvin Korr, and extraordinarily for me, myself) to run courses at Los Angeles College of Chiropractic in the 1980’s. He (Liebenson) is now a leader of chiropractic rehabilitation and his  book Rehabilitation of the Spine incorporates much that he has synthesized from these sources.”

The next section of spine books are based on popular treatment methods, the names you have heard before like Maitland and McKenzie.  I myself am not a subscriber to one specific theory so I actually own all of these books and use what I feel is the best from each.  My thought is that an integrated approach is always better than sticking to just one approach, but I am sure that others would disagree.

  • image Manual Therapy – NAGS, SNAGS and MWMS – Mulligan. The book that describes the popular Mulligan techniques.  Sue Falsone explains “An easy read that is entertaining and amazingly informative all at the same time.  A fantastic manual technique to have in your tool box.”  A very simple book and something you can easily integrate into your clinical skill set.
  • Cervical and Thoracic Spine: Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy – McKenzie.  The McKenize approach is explained in great detail in this 2-volume set.  A very common method of treating that is explained well in this book.
  • Lumbar Spine: Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy – McKenzie.  Another 2-volume set on the McKenzie approach specifically on the lumbar spine.  Together this and the previous entry make up a useful series of books on the evaluation and treatment of the spine using the McKenzie method.
  • Maitland’s Vertebral Manipulation – Maitland.  I think this is another misleading title as this book does a great job reviewing the Maitland approach to spine evaluation and treatment.  I like this book a lot, very clear and easy to follow and probably one of the better overall books on how to evaluate and treat the spine.
  • Manual Mobilization of the Joints: The Spine – Kaltenborn.  A classic on mobilization of the spine.


Best Clinical Examination Books

Clinical examination books are important tools when attempting to diagnosis an injury.  These are often times the most popular books lying around rehabilitation clinics and training rooms.

  • image Orthopaedic Physical Assessment – Magee. George Davies summed this one up well “Still probably the most comprehensive exam book, although not all evidence-based supported.”  I couldn’t agree more.  There is an overwhelming amount of examination techniques.  Still the leader but needs to be evidence-based on the next version.
  • Orthopedic Physical Examination Tests: An Evidence-Based Approach – Cook.  Another good examination book.  Not as detailed as Magee, but this may be a good thing.  Obviously the evidence-based approach is a nice touch as well.
  • Muscles: Testing and Function with Posture and Pain – Kendall.   Eric Cressey sums this up well “This is just a true classic that everyone needs to own – whether you’re working with healthy or injured people (or both). It is one of those books that I continually refer back to when my brain gets rolling and I want to confirm or refute an idea I have.”  Sue Falsone adds “A classic.  Everyone should own it.  Enough said.”


Best Athletic Training Books

The concepts behind the following athletic training based books are probably simplistic at best for an athletic trainer, but for physical therapists and strength and conditioning specialists, these books can come in handy when trying to understand the acute care of athletic injuries.

  • image Principles of Athletic Training – Prentice, Arnheim.  This really can be considered the study guide for the NATA board exam.  It covers pretty much every aspect of athletic training, and covers it well.  A great reference for physical therapists interested in sports and strength coaches and personal trainers working with athletes.
  • Athletic Taping and Bracing – Perrin.  This book goes into more detail than Prentice on actual taping techniques.  There are many taping techniques that could be used in the rehabilitation setting as well.


Best Manual Therapy Books

I couldn’t think of the perfect title for this section, so I ended up with just “Manual Therapy.”  This is intended to include books that discuss manual therapy and bodywork techniques.  This is an area that is not covered well in most physical therapy, athletic training, and strength and conditioning education programs, so to me this is one of the most important sections.  I always admit that this was an area that I did not pay attention to early in my career and I regret this.  Expand your mind and enhance your clinical skills with the following.

  • image Anatomy Trains – Myers.  This book was hand down the most popular among the expert contributors and almost unanimous.  I couldn’t agree more.  Eric Cressey writes “We all spent a lot of time in school learning all about muscles, tendons, bones, ligaments, and nerves, but nobody ever spent much time talking about how all these structures interact with the fascia system.”  Sue Falsone writes “Takes basic anatomy and puts it together in a way that makes you appreciate the unbelievable direct anatomical connection between the foot and the head, along with everything in between.” and Leon Chaitow writes “In the early to mid-1990s I became familiar with the research suggesting a far more active role for fascia than had been previously believed. A leader in that field was Rolfer Tom Myers, who wrote several important articles on the subject for the journal I edit (Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies) which were subsequently expanded into his groundbreaking book Anatomy Trains.
  • Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes Sarhmann.  Both Ken Crenshaw and Eric Cressey recommended this one.  Cressey writes “I love Sahrmann’s work because she really makes folks think about movement inefficiencies and not just what the MRI or x-ray says. This book probably influenced my overall thought process more than any other that I’ve read, and is quite possibly the most comprehensive resource available for spotting musculoskeletal dysfunction.”
  • imageClinical Applications of Neuromuscular Techniques: Volume 1 Upper Body – Chaitow, DeLany. I was first introduced to this work of Leon Chaitow by Ken Crenshaw.  He was always talking so optimistically about the results he was getting from these techniques so i had to try them out.  This is one of my “must haves.”  Leon Chaitow describes how the book came about “All these influences – Goldthwait, Korr, Janda, Lewit, Simons, Myers and many others have found there way into my work and writing – with the double volume Clinical Applications of Neuromuscular Techniques : Vol.1 Upper Body and Vol.2 Lower Body, coauthored with Judith Delany; containing a practical synthesis of what I’ve learned from these giants.”
  • Clinical Applications of Neuromuscular Techniques: Volume 2 Lower BodyChaitow, DeLany.  Volume 2 of this set focuses on the lower body.  See above.
  • Muscle Energy Techniques – Chaitow.  One of my favorites from Chaitow.  His series of books do such a good job discussing his thoughts and the science behind his techniques.  Start with the 2 volume set above and then expand to this book and the next
  • Positional Release Techniques – Chaitow. Similar to the Muscle Energy book by Chaitow, an excellent job discussing positional release techniques in great detail.
  • image Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The trigger point manual – Travell, Simmons.  The definitive resource of trigger points.  This is an area that we can apply immediately and see noticeable improvements with our patients and clients.  Leon Chaitow writes “David Simons collaborative masterpiece with the late Janet Travell was for me, as it is for many people, a resource that continues to amaze and enlighten.
  • The Sensitive Nervous System – Butler.  David Butler’s work in the area of the nervous system has been outstanding.  This is to me one of his better books regarding the evaluation of the nervous system and his neurodynamic techniques such as nerve flossing.  Leon Chaitow writes “Somewhere in the 90s I became familiar with David Butler’s important research into neural restriction (neurodynamics). His book is a masterpiece of writing about a hugely complex topic in a comprehensible way.”


Best Strength and Conditioning Books

The following books are intended mainly for the strength and conditioning specialists, but as a physical therapist and an athletic trainer, I think these books should be read by all.  These are the thoughts that can take your clinical skills to the next level, especially if you want to work with athletes.

  • image Essentials of Strength & Conditioning – NSCA. This provides many excellent concepts of the title which oftentimes physical therapists do not have a real strong back ground.  This is the resource our industry uses as the study guide for its “gold standard” certification (CSCS).  The book is not without it’s flaws, but is a starting point.  Eric Cressey writes “I completely refute a lot of it (particularly the nutrition and periodization stuff, which are grossly outdated, conservative, and lacking in real-world efficacy), but appreciate the fact that it is the minimum someone needs to learn before they even think about train athletes.”
  • Functional Training for Sport – Boyle.  A gem from elite strength and conditioning coach Michael Boyle.  A good glimpse inside Michael’s mind when designing programs for athletes.
  • Core Performance – Verstegen:  This books is written more for the general population, which made me hesitate to even include it, but the concepts behind the Athlete’s Performance approach led by Mark Verstegen are worth including.  Sue Falsone writes “Sets the foundation for the Athletes’ Performance methodology with professional athletes and how it can be applied to everyone’s life.  Focus is on Mindset, Nutrition, Movement and Recovery…a truly integrated system.”
  • Athletic body in balance – Cook.  A popular book by Gray Cook on understanding human movement during sport and functional activities.  This book describes his popular functional movement screen that can be useful in evaluating your patients, athletes, and clients.  I don’t use the functional movement screen as described but do use some the concepts within.  For the strength coaches, I would recommend this to develop your sense of evaluation.


Best Clinical Research Books

I believe that we should all participate in clinical research.  We do not have to leave the research to the PhD’s in a lab somewhere, your patients, athletes, and clients are perfect “specimens” to study the efficacy behind many of our techniques.  Getting started in research isn’t as hard as it seems, you just need a little direction.  Try these books to begin.



View contributions to the The Essential Reading List Series by other expert clinicians:


What do you think?  Did I leave out one of your favorites?  Reply to this post and let me know, maybe it will make the 2nd edition of this list in the future!

Photo by jamespaullong

15 replies
  1. continuingedofanatc
    continuingedofanatc says:


    Great series. The contributions of the other experts were outstanding. Thanks for bringing this great collection of resources together.


  2. Trevor Winnegge DPT
    Trevor Winnegge DPT says:

    nice list Mike! one other book that I like, along with the Magee book is:
    Orthopaedic Examination, Evaluation & Intervention. It is very thorough, although quite a heavy book to lug around-it is over 1400 pages! Special tests are supplied with sensitivity and specificity numbers. thorough anatomy overview,examination overview, ther ex, treatment techniques, differential diagnoses. it is a nice reference to have!!!

  3. Brandon
    Brandon says:


    Thank you for this info! Very helpful and to know that one is on track when dealing with athletes!

    However, for those who don't read regularly and rather attend CEU events, how about a listing of effective CEU courses?

    What are the pros/cons of manual courses/certifications being offered.

    Nothing is more frustrating than attending a course that is not helpful and not knowing beforehand!

    Thanks for a great blog!

    Brandon Lawshe, PT, ATC, LAT, PES

  4. amy castillo
    amy castillo says:

    I second Brandon's comments regarding CE. Would love to see some dialogue and rating system on all the CE out there.

  5. Therapist Finder
    Therapist Finder says:

    Your actions are harmful to yourself or to others: for instance, you are drinking too much alcohol, abusing drugs, or becoming overly argumentative and aggressive.

  6. rebecca
    rebecca says:

    Thank you so much for compiling this list. I am a current PTA student looking to gain more than a basic knowledge for going into the field. It’s so helpful to know what books the experts recommend!

  7. Vanessa
    Vanessa says:

    Have you reviewed the 3rd edition (2011) of Clinical Orthopaedic Rehabilitation by Brotzman & Manske?

  8. Ali
    Ali says:

    Hi Mike,

    Great post. Do you have any recommendations for someone like me who is looking into PT as a career?



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    top weight training websites says:

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  10. Gregory Krasutski
    Gregory Krasutski says:

    Thanks for putting together this list and for comments on each book. I enjoy working out and was looking a physical therapy book to help me recover faster from occasional minor injuries. It’s hard to pick a physical therapy book on Amazon myself, because most of them are textbooks and don’t have valuable reviews.

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