Welcome to Physical Therapy Working For You:
A Patient Resource

Physical Therapy

Job Description:

Physical therapists (PTs) help patients, including accident victims and individuals with disabling conditions such as low-back pain, arthritis, heart disease, fractures, head injuries, diabetes, wounds and cerebral palsy, by providing services that restore function, improve mobility, relieve pain, and prevent or limit permanent physical disabilities. They restore, maintain, and promote overall fitness and health.

They evaluate each patient starting with a detailed medical history, then test and measure strength, range of motion, balance, coordination, posture, muscle performance and function. They look at the patient's prior and current level of function and determine the patient's ability to regain this function in the community or workplace.

Physical therapists develop treatment plans based on their evaluation findings with goals and expected outcomes. Treatment includes exercise to increase flexibility, strength and endurance, modalities such as electrical stimulation, ultrasound, traction, iontophoresis, ice and heat, joint and soft tissue mobilization, instruction on the use of assistive devices and adaptive equipment, lifting techniques, body mechanics and fitting with orthotics and braces.

Physical Therapists document progress as treatment progresses, conduct periodic re-evaluations, and contact other medical professionals as needed (such as doctors, occupational and speech therapists, social workers, dentists, nurses and counselors).

Physical therapists are trained to treat patients with a wide variety of symptoms. Some therapist choose to specialize.

Employment Facts:

Physical therapists held about 137,000 jobs in 2002. Some physical therapists held two or more jobs. Physical therapists work in hospitals, outpatient clinics, private practices, wellness centers, workplaces, schools and in patient's homes.


One who wants to work as a physical therapist must graduate, with a master's or doctoral degree, from an accredited physical therapist educational program. A physical therapist's basic courses include biology, chemistry, and physics, followed by specialized classes such as anatomy, biomechanics, neuroanatomy, examination and treatment techniques, therapeutic procedures and disease information (pathophysiology).

Other Requirements:

All states require physical therapists to pass a licensure exam before they can practice. Many states have a certain number of hours worked each year and continuing education requirements for physical therapists in order to renew their license. This helps promote professional development and ensure that physical therapists maintain a certain level of competency.

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