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Physical Therapist

Photo of therapist performing manual therapy on an older woman's leg

What is a physical therapist?

Physical therapy is the health profession that focuses on the evaluation, management, and prevention of disorders of human motion.

Physical therapists, or PTs, are important members of the rehabilitation team. They evaluate and provide treatment for persons with health problems and disabilities resulting from injury, disease, overuse of muscles or tendons, pain, or loss of a body part.

Physical therapy treatments and services focus on restoring the individual's mobility (movement) and function, and preventing of further disability.

Physical therapists may provide treatment and education regarding any of the following:

  • Mobility (movement)

  • Balance and gait retraining

  • Heat and cold therapy and massage

  • Activities of daily living (ADLs)

  • Burn care

  • Casting and splinting

  • Wheelchair, walkers, canes, and crutches

  • Muscle retraining

  • Pain management

  • Cardiovascular strengthening

  • Use of orthotics (braces, splints) and prosthetics (artificial limbs)

  • Exercise programs

Physical therapists may practice in a variety of settings, including the following:

  • Hospitals

  • Nursing homes

  • Inpatient rehabilitation centers

  • Outpatient rehabilitation centers

  • Community and home health settings

  • Schools

  • Industrial health centers

  • Sports facilities

  • Private practice

Physical therapists have either a master's degree or doctorate. In order to practice, all graduates must be licensed by their state by passing a national certification examination. They are accredited by the American Physical Therapy Association.

Online Medical Reviewer: Bellendir, Trina, MSPT, CLT
Online Medical Reviewer: Kolbus, Karin, RN, DNP, COHN-S
Date Last Reviewed: 1/6/2014
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