All About Physical Therapy

About Physical Therapists

Physical therapists help their patients to manage pain and recover from illness, injuries, and surgeries in order to move better and live a pain-free and optimal quality of life. Physical therapists are experts in the function of muscle, joints and nerves and design treatments to reduce the need for surgery and prescription medications for their patients.

Physical therapists can help you:

  • Relieve pain

  • Reduce and prevent muscular imbalances

  • Increase joint mobility and range of motion

  • Improve balance and prevent slips and falls

  • Regain independence after a stroke or surgery

  • Limit or prevent permanent physical disabilities

Physical therapists, also called PT’s, are licensed healthcare professionals who attend graduate school and must pass a licensing exam before they are able to begin seeing patients. In the United States, physical therapy students will earn their Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. They will study courses that include biomechanics, kinesiology, cellular histology, exercise physiology, communication, ethics and many other courses.

Following graduation, physical therapists can choose to specialize in geriatrics, orthopedics, pediatrics, sports medicine, or men’s or women’s health. Sports medicine physical therapists provide care to athletes who are recovering from injuries, long-term illness or chronic conditions.

The field of physical therapy is growing as the population continues to age and will require the services of physical therapists. Physical therapists work in both inpatient and outpatient settings including hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, private practices, sports or fitness facilities, and schools.

How Physical Therapists Practice

When you first see a physical therapist, they will perform a variety of assessments to test your strength, mobility, gait and range of motion. They will review your medical history and ask you about your goals. The physical therapist will then develop an individualized treatment plan that will include exercises and hands-on treatments that will be done in the clinic and at home between appointments. When your physical therapy ends, they will provide you with ways to maintain your progress and prevent future issues.

During your visit, you may also be assisted by physical therapy assistants and/or physical therapy aids who work under the physical therapist to provide both direct and indirect care to the patient.  Physical therapists also work in conjunction with physicians, occupational therapists, nutritionists, psychologists, social workers and other healthcare providers to provide a well-rounded approach to patient care.

Conditions Physical Therapists Treat

Physical therapists are trained to help patients recover from conditions that include:

Chronic cardio-pulmonary conditions affecting the lungs and heart including chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), cystic fibrosis (CF) and post care for myocardial infarction (heart attack or MI)

  • Chronic conditions including diabetes, obesity and osteoporosis

  • Neurological conditions including Parkinson’s disease, stroke, spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis and traumatic brain injuries

  • Overuse injuries and sports injuries such as tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome and plantar fasciitis

  • Muscular-skeletal conditions such as lower back pain, neck pain, arthritis, weak grip strength and rotator cuff injuries 

  • Post-operative recovery from a variety of surgeries

  • Women’s health conditions

Physical therapists are trained to not only help a patient's immediate recovery from major surgeries including amputations but can assist patients throughout the entire healing continuum. Physical therapists are also critical for helping patients regain independence and maintain social relations, all essential components to healing and living an optimal life.

Additional Resources

National Physical Therapy Month