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Physical Therapy

Today’s Physical Therapist - Do You Have What It Takes?

Physical therapists (PTs) are highly-educated health care professionals who examine, diagnose, and treat people who have medical problems or other health-related conditions that limit their abilities to move and function in their daily lives. Physical therapists are experts in "the science of healing and the art of caring."

The Science of Healing

Patients and physicians are demanding the talents of physical therapists for conservative management of a wide variety of conditions. In many cases, patients are being sent to physical therapy instead of surgery.

Physical therapists help people with orthopedic conditions such as low back pain or osteoporosis; joint and soft tissue injuries such as fractures and dislocations; neurologic conditions such as stroke, traumatic brain injury, or Parkinson’s disease; connective tissue injuries such as burns or wounds; cardiopulmonary and circulatory conditions such as congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; and workplace injuries including repetitive stress disorders and sports injuries.

Physical therapists practice in a variety of settings, including hospitals, private practices, outpatient clinics, home health agencies, schools, sports and fitness facilities, work settings, and nursing homes.

Some physical therapists seek advanced certification in a clinical specialty, such as orthopedic, neurologic, cardiovascular and pulmonary, pediatric, geriatric, sports physical therapy, or electrophysiological testing and measurement.

The Art of Caring

The individualized, "hands on" approach that characterizes physical therapist care is highly valued by patients. When a physical therapist sees a patient for the first time, he or she examines that individual and develops a plan of care that promotes the ability to move, reduces pain, restores function, and prevents disability. The physical therapist and the patient then work side-by-side to make sure that the goals of the treatment plan are met.

Therapeutic exercise and functional training are the cornerstones of physical therapist treatment. Depending on the particular needs of a patient, physical therapists may "manipulate" a joint (that is, perform certain types of passive movements at the end of the patient’s range of motion) or massage a muscle to promote proper movement and function. Physical therapists may use other techniques such as electrotherapy, ultrasound (high-frequency waves that produce heat), hot packs, and ice in addition to other treatments when appropriate.

Physical therapists will also work with individuals to prevent loss of mobility by developing fitness- and wellness-oriented programs for healthier and more active lifestyles.

It is important to know that physical therapy can be provided only by qualified physical therapists or by physical therapist assistants working under the supervision of a physical therapist.

Skilled Professionals

Because physical therapists are required to understand a vast array of conditions that can affect movement, function, and health, all PTs must receive a graduate degree from an accredited physical therapist program. The majority of educational programs now offer the doctor of physical therapy (DPT) degree. Before a physical therapist can practice, he or she must pass a national licensure examination and be licensed in the state in which he/she practices.

Health insurance covers most forms of physical therapy, but coverage varies with each plan. Some people choose to pay for physical therapy directly, even if their policy does not cover their program or if their benefits have run out. This practice is growing, as more and more states do not legally require a physician’s referral for you to see a physical therapist.

Finding a Physical Therapist

The American Physical Therapy Association’s national Web-based database, "Find a PT," at, allows consumers to locate physical therapist members who may be right for them. APTA members are bound by the Association’s Code of Ethics and are committed to providing competent and compassionate care.

It is important to know that even if a state requires a physician’s referral for physical therapy, the consumer always has the right to see the physical therapist of his or her choice.

American Physical Therapy Association
1111 N. Fairfax Street
Alexandria, VA 22314-1488

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Physical Therapy Program, Department of Rehabilitation Science
University of Cincinnati
PO Box 670394
Cincinnati, Ohio 45267
Tel: 513-557-7477
[email protected]
Click here for more information

University of Alabama at Birmingham - Department of Physical Therapy
1530 3rd Ave. South
Birmingham, AL 35294
Tel: 205 934 4363
Click here for more information