Physical therapists, sometimes called PTs, help injured or ill people improve their movement and manage their pain. These therapists are often an important part of rehabilitation and treatment of patients with chronic conditions or injuries.
Physical Therapy Overview
Physical therapists typically do the following:
- Review patients’ medical history and any referrals or notes from doctors or surgeons.
- Diagnose patients’ dysfunctional movements by observing them stand or walk and by listening to their concerns, among other methods.
- Set up a plan of care for patients, outlining the patient’s goals and the expected outcome of the plan.
- Use exercises, stretching maneuvers, hands-on therapy, and equipment to ease patients’ pain, help them increase their mobility, prevent further pain or injury, and facilitate health and wellness.
- Evaluate a patient’s progress, modifying a plan of care and trying new treatments as needed.
- Educate patients and their families about what to expect from and how best to cope with the recovery process.
Physical therapists provide care to people of all ages who have functional problems resulting from back and neck injuries; sprains, strains, and fractures; arthritis; amputations; neurological disorders, such as stroke or cerebral palsy; injuries related to work and sports; and other conditions.
Physical therapists are trained to use a variety of different techniques—sometimes called modalities—to care for their patients. These techniques include applying heat and cold and using assistive devices such as crutches, wheelchairs, and walkers and equipment, such as adhesive electrodes which apply electric stimulation to treat injuries and pain.
The work of physical therapists varies by type of patient. For example, a patient experiencing loss of mobility due to stroke needs different care from that given to an athlete recovering from an injury. Some physical therapists specialize in one type of care, such as orthopedics or geriatrics. Many physical therapists also work at preventing loss of mobility by developing fitness and wellness programs to encourage healthier and more active lifestyles.
Physical therapists work as part of a healthcare team, overseeing the work of physical therapist assistants and aides and consulting with physicians and surgeons and other specialists.
Is physical therapy a possible career for you?
Do you have the following qualities? If so, physical therapy might be a good fit for you!
- Compassion: Physical therapists are often drawn to the profession in part by a desire to help people. They work with people who are in pain and must have empathy for their patients.
- Detail oriented: Like other healthcare providers, physical therapists should have strong analytic and observational skills to diagnose a patient’s problem, evaluate treatments, and provide safe, effective care.
- Dexterity: Physical therapists must use their hands to provide manual therapy and therapeutic exercises. They should feel comfortable massaging and otherwise physically assisting patients.
- Interpersonal skill: Because physical therapists spend a lot of time interacting with patients, they should enjoy working with people. They must be able to explain treatment programs, motivate patients, and listen to patients’ concerns to provide effective therapy.
- Physical stamina: Physical therapists spend much of their time on their feet, moving as they work with patients. They should enjoy physical activity.
- Resourcefulness: Physical therapists customize treatment plans for patients. They must be flexible and able to adapt plans of care to meet the needs of each patient.
Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT).
Years of Study
Most programs are typically three years. A B.S./B.A. degree is required for admission.
Graduates of accredited PT programs must pass a state licensure exam in order to practice.
Choosing a PT Program
Choose a physical therapy program carefully based upon factors that are important to your own learning needs. Consider program content, geographic location, faculty, facilities, experiential training opportunities, class size, student demographics, extracurricular opportunities, and cost.
For state-supported public institutions, legal residence may have a significant impact on admissions decisions. Private institutions may offer out-of-state and foreign applicants a greater number of positions as compared to state-supported, public institutions.
Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook