Physical therapists provide services that help restore function, improve mobility, relieve pain, and prevent or limit permanent physical disabilities of patients with injuries or disease. Physical therapists work closely with patients and clients to restore, maintain, and promote their overall fitness and wellness for healthier and more active lifestyles. Patients may include accident victims and individuals with disabling conditions such as low back pain, fractures, head injuries, arthritis, heart disease, and cerebral palsy.
They take the patient’s/client’s history and conduct a systems review, and perform tests and measures such as strength, range of motion, balance and coordination, posture, muscle performance, respiration, and motor function, to identify potential and existing problems. Based on the examination and the physical therapist’s evaluative judgment, physical therapists determine a patient diagnosis, prognosis, and plan of care that describes evidence-based treatment strategies and the anticipated functional outcomes. Finally, as a part of the plan of care, physical therapists determine the patient's ability to be independent and reintegrate into the community or workplace after injury or illness.
Physical therapists practice in a variety of settings including hospitals, outpatient clinics, private offices, home health agencies, schools, sports and fitness facilities, work settings, and skilled nursing facilities. Most full-time physical therapists work a 40-hour week, which may include some evenings and weekends.
This position can be physically demanding, because physical therapists often have to stoop, kneel, crouch, lift, and stand for long periods. In addition, physical therapists move heavy equipment and lift patients or help them turn, stand, or walk.
About a Career as a Physical Therapist
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Note: The American Physical Therapy Association reviewed this profile.
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All physical therapist education programs, except for one, have transitioned to the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. By 2015, all programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) must award the DPT degree. Individuals who wish to practice as a physical therapist in the United States must earn a PT degree from a CAPTE-accredited program, pass a national licensure examination, and meet licensure requirements for the state(s) in which they practice.
Applicants can research admission requirements and apply to multiple PT education programs through the Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service (PTCAS) website.
For more information on available physical therapist educational programs, see the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) website.
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Last updated: August 24, 2016
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