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
Watch the You Can Be Me video on the American Physical Therapy Association website.
About Health Care Careers
Note: The American Physical Therapy Association reviewed this profile.
Twenty Years Later: What I Know Now That I Wish I Had Known Then
Part 2: How to Attend College Without Going into Too Much Debt
Part 1: How to Attend College Without Going into Too Much Debt
Criminal Background Check? But, I’m Not A Criminal!
Part 1: Accreditation Matters
Applying for Financial Aid (Part II)
Are You Credit Ready and Credit Worthy?
Why Diversity Matters in the Health Professions
Start Preparing for Your Health Care Career in High School
Finding Meaningful Work in Healthcare: Older Workers
Reconciliation Act of 2010 Includes Significant Student Aid Provisions
Healthcare disparities and heart disease
Jobs of tomorrow will target highly-skilled, educated healthcare workers
Healthcare Reform 101
Keep Past Mistakes from Limiting Your Future Health Care Career
Making a Major Decision
Top 10 Reasons to Pursue a Health Career Now
Start Your Health Career While You’re Still in School
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.
Search for funding opportunities related to this career
Search for enrichment programs related to this career
Last updated: May 26, 2016
©2012 American Dental Education Association