What Does a Physical Therapist Do?

What Does a Physical Therapist Do?

Becoming a physical therapist is a rewarding career path for those who are passionate about helping others improve their quality of life. Physical therapists play a crucial role in the healthcare industry, specializing in the evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of individuals with injuries or conditions that affect their ability to move and function properly. Whether it’s helping someone recover from a sports-related injury or assisting an elderly patient in regaining their independence, physical therapists have the opportunity to make a significant impact on the lives of their patients.

Physical therapists are responsible for developing and implementing treatment plans that are tailored to each patient’s specific needs. They use a variety of techniques and exercises to help patients improve their mobility, reduce pain, and restore function. This may include manual therapy, therapeutic exercises, and the use of specialized equipment. Physical therapists also educate their patients on how to prevent further injuries and maintain their progress outside of the clinic.



To become a physical therapist, there are several steps that need to be completed. First, aspiring physical therapists must earn a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, such as biology or kinesiology. It’s also helpful to take coursework in anatomy, physiology, and exercise science to gain a greater understanding of the human body and its functions. After completing their undergraduate education, students must then apply to a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program. These programs typically last around three years and include both classroom instruction and clinical experience.

After graduating from a DPT program, physical therapists must pass a licensure exam in order to practice. The exam is administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy and tests the individual’s knowledge and skills in various areas of physical therapy. Once licensed, physical therapists have the opportunity to pursue additional certifications and specializations to further enhance their skills and knowledge. This can include becoming board-certified in a specific area, such as orthopedics or neurology.

The job outlook for physical therapists is extremely positive, with a projected growth rate of 22% from 2018 to 2028, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is much faster than the average for all occupations, and it reflects the increasing demand for physical therapy services as the population ages. Physical therapists can work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, and private practices. They may also have the opportunity to start their own business or work as consultants.

Overall, a career in physical therapy can be incredibly fulfilling for those who are passionate about helping others and have a strong desire to make a positive impact on people’s lives. Whether it’s helping someone recover from a debilitating injury or assisting an athlete in achieving their dreams, physical therapists have the opportunity to play a vital role in the healthcare industry and improve the overall well-being of their patients.



What Does a Physical Therapist Do?

A physical therapist is a healthcare professional who specializes in helping individuals regain movement and function in their bodies. They work with patients of all ages who have experienced injuries, illnesses, or disabilities that affect their ability to move and perform daily activities.

Physical therapy combines elements of science, medicine, and exercise to create a comprehensive treatment plan for each patient. The goal is to improve mobility, reduce pain, and enhance overall quality of life. Physical therapists use a variety of techniques and modalities, such as therapeutic exercises, manual therapy, and specialized equipment, to help their patients regain strength and function.

To become a physical therapist, you’ll need to earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree from an accredited program. This typically involves completing a bachelor’s degree, followed by three years of graduate-level coursework in physical therapy. After graduation, you’ll need to pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) to become licensed.



Once you become a licensed physical therapist, you can choose to specialize in a specific area of practice, such as orthopedics, pediatrics, or sports medicine. You may also have the opportunity to work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centers, and private practices.

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The outlook for physical therapists is excellent, with a projected job growth of 22% from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations. This high demand is due to the aging population and the increasing need for rehabilitation services.

As a physical therapist, you’ll have the responsibility of helping others improve their quality of life. It requires not only physical strength and knowledge but also emotional support and empathy. You’ll frequently work with patients who are in pain or facing physical challenges, so being able to provide reassurance and encouragement is an important part of the job.

If you’re considering a career in physical therapy, there are a few important factors to consider. First, the educational requirements can be demanding and costly. However, many schools offer financial aid and scholarship opportunities to help offset the cost. Second, physical therapy is a constantly evolving field, so continuing education and staying up-to-date on the latest research and techniques is crucial.

Overview of Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is a healthcare profession that focuses on helping individuals regain and improve their physical function and mobility. Physical therapists, also known as PTs, work with patients of all ages who have medical conditions or injuries that limit their ability to move and perform daily activities.

Before becoming a physical therapist, individuals must first earn a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, such as biology or kinesiology. After completing their undergraduate studies, aspiring physical therapists must then apply to a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program. Admission to these programs is highly competitive and requires a strong academic background and relevant experience.

Once accepted into a DPT program, students will spend the next three years completing coursework and gaining hands-on experience through clinical rotations. The coursework covers a wide range of topics, including anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, therapeutic exercise, and patient evaluation. Students also learn about different treatment techniques and interventions used in physical therapy.

After completing their DPT program, individuals must pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) to become licensed to practice as a physical therapist. This exam is administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy and evaluates the candidate’s knowledge and skills in various areas of physical therapy.

Once licensed, physical therapists have a variety of career opportunities available to them. They can work in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, private clinics, schools, and even in patients’ homes. Physical therapists may specialize in areas such as orthopedics, neurology, pediatrics, geriatrics, or sports medicine.

Physical therapy is a rewarding career that allows individuals to make a positive impact on their patients’ lives. PTs work closely with physicians and other healthcare professionals to develop personalized treatment plans for their patients. They evaluate their patients’ condition, set goals, and implement interventions to help them regain their mobility and improve their overall quality of life.

In addition to their clinical work, physical therapists also play a role in educating their patients about their condition and providing them with strategies to manage their symptoms and prevent further injury. They may also provide guidance on exercises and lifestyle modifications that can help improve their patients’ overall health and well-being.

Physical therapy is a profession that requires continuous learning and professional development. PTs must stay up-to-date with the latest research and advancements in their field and may choose to pursue additional certifications or specialization to enhance their knowledge and skills. Maintaining licensure and certifications is important for career advancement and to ensure that PTs are providing the highest quality of care to their patients.

Education and Training

When it comes to becoming a physical therapist, there are several important steps to consider. The first step is to complete a bachelor’s degree, which is typically in a field related to biology or exercise science. This coursework will provide you with a strong foundation in the sciences and prepare you for the more advanced study of physical therapy.

After completing your bachelor’s degree, you will need to apply to a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program. These programs typically take three years to complete and include both classroom learning and clinical rotations. During your DPT program, you will learn about the various aspects of physical therapy, including anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, and therapeutic techniques.

Once you have completed your DPT program, you will need to pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) to become licensed to practice as a physical therapist. This exam is administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy and tests your knowledge and skills in the field of physical therapy.

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In addition to the NPTE, some states may also require you to pass a state-specific exam or complete additional coursework to become licensed. It’s important to research the specific requirements in your state to ensure that you meet all of the necessary qualifications.

After graduation and licensure, many physical therapists choose to pursue additional certifications or specializations to further develop their skills and knowledge. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) offers several specialty certifications in areas such as orthopedics, pediatrics, and sports physical therapy.

It’s also important to note that physical therapists can choose to further their education by pursuing a post-professional DPT or a PhD in physical therapy. These advanced degrees can open up additional career opportunities, such as teaching or research positions.

Overall, becoming a physical therapist requires a significant investment of time, money, and effort. However, for those who are passionate about helping others and are willing to put in the work, it can be a rewarding and fulfilling career.

Duties and Responsibilities of a Physical Therapist

A physical therapist plays a crucial role in the healthcare industry, specializing in the evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of patients with physical injuries or conditions that affect their ability to move and function. They work closely with physicians and other healthcare professionals to provide comprehensive care and help patients regain their mobility and independence.

Evaluating and Assessing Patients

One of the primary responsibilities of a physical therapist is to evaluate and assess patients to determine the extent of their physical limitations and develop an appropriate treatment plan. This involves conducting thorough patient interviews, reviewing medical histories, and performing physical examinations to identify the underlying causes of the patient’s condition.

Physical therapists also use various assessment tools and techniques, such as range of motion tests, muscle strength tests, and balance assessments, to gather objective data and measure the patient’s progress throughout the treatment process.

Developing and Implementing Treatment Plans

Based on their evaluation and assessment, physical therapists develop individualized treatment plans tailored to each patient’s specific needs and goals. These treatment plans may include a combination of exercises, manual therapy techniques, and assistive devices to improve mobility, reduce pain, and enhance overall physical function.

Physical therapists also educate patients on proper body mechanics and provide guidance on how to prevent further injuries or manage their conditions effectively. They may also collaborate with other healthcare professionals, such as occupational therapists and speech-language pathologists, to ensure a comprehensive approach to patient care.

Monitoring Progress and Adjusting Treatment

Throughout the course of treatment, physical therapists continuously monitor and evaluate the patient’s progress to determine the effectiveness of the treatment plan. They use their clinical observations and patient feedback to make necessary adjustments and modifications to the treatment plan to ensure optimal outcomes.

Physical therapists also provide emotional support and motivation to patients, as the recovery process can be physically and emotionally challenging. They help patients stay motivated and engaged in their treatment, encouraging them to reach their full potential and regain their independence.

Continuing Education and Professional Development

Physical therapists are committed to lifelong learning and professional development. They stay up-to-date with the latest advancements in physical therapy through continuing education courses, workshops, and conferences. This allows them to expand their knowledge and skills, stay current with evidence-based practices, and provide the best possible care to their patients.

Physical therapists may also choose to pursue advanced certifications or specialize in specific areas of practice, such as sports rehabilitation or pediatric physical therapy. These additional qualifications further enhance their expertise and open up new career opportunities.

Career Opportunities for Physical Therapists

Physical therapy is a profession that offers a wide range of career opportunities for individuals who are passionate about helping others improve their health and well-being. With a growing demand for physical therapists, the outlook for this profession is promising.

One of the main factors that makes physical therapy a popular career choice is the potential for a good salary. According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), the median annual salary for physical therapists in the United States is $87,930 as of March 2021. This includes professionals at all levels of education and experience.

To become a physical therapist, individuals must complete a doctoral degree in physical therapy. However, before pursuing a doctoral program, aspiring physical therapists must first complete a relevant undergraduate degree. Most physical therapy programs require applicants to have completed specific coursework in areas such as anatomy, physiology, and biology.

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After completing their undergraduate degree, individuals can then apply to doctoral programs in physical therapy. These programs typically take three years to complete and include both academic coursework and clinical rotations. Upon graduation, individuals must pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) to become licensed physical therapists.

Once licensed, physical therapists have the opportunity to work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, outpatient clinics, rehabilitation centers, and private practices. They may also choose to specialize in a specific area of physical therapy, such as sports medicine, pediatrics, or geriatrics.

Physical therapists can also advance their careers by pursuing additional certifications and specializations. The APTA offers multiple specialty certifications, including orthopedic, neurologic, and cardiovascular and pulmonary specialties. These certifications can help physical therapists demonstrate their expertise and stand out in the field.

In addition to clinical work, physical therapists also have the opportunity to take on leadership roles and develop their business-savvy skills. Many physical therapists choose to open their own private practices or become managers in healthcare organizations. Having a good understanding of business and management principles can greatly enhance a physical therapist’s career prospects.

How to Start Your Career in Physical Therapy

Starting a career in physical therapy can be both exciting and challenging. It requires a final determination and a strong commitment to learning and helping others. If you’re interested in becoming a physical therapist, here are some important steps to get you started:

  1. Educational Requirements: To become a physical therapist, you’ll need to earn a doctoral degree in physical therapy. This typically takes about 3 years to complete. It’s important to research and choose an accredited program that meets your educational needs.
  2. Observe and Volunteer: Before committing to a physical therapy program, it’s helpful to gain some real-world experience. You can do this by volunteering or shadowing a physical therapist. This will give you a better understanding of the profession and help you determine if it’s the right career path for you.
  3. Get the Right Education: Once you’ve decided to pursue a career in physical therapy, it’s important to choose the right educational program. Look for programs that offer a comprehensive curriculum and provide opportunities for hands-on learning and clinical experiences.
  4. Earn Relevant Certifications: While not always required, having additional certifications can be beneficial in the field of physical therapy. Certifications such as the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) or the Orthopedic Certified Specialist (OCS) can help you stand out and increase your job prospects.
  5. Build Your Professional Network: Throughout your education and career, it’s important to build a strong professional network. Attend conferences, join professional organizations, and connect with alumni and other professionals in the field. These connections can provide valuable resources, mentorship, and job opportunities.
  6. Stay Up-to-Date: The field of physical therapy is constantly evolving, so it’s important to stay current with the latest research and advancements. Take advantage of continuing education opportunities, attend workshops, and participate in online courses to maintain your knowledge and skills.
  7. Start Your Own Practice: If you’re interested in having more control over your career and want to build your own business, consider starting your own physical therapy practice. This will require some business-savvy skills and a little bit of entrepreneurship, but it can be a rewarding and fulfilling path.

Starting a career in physical therapy is a journey that combines education, experience, and a passion for helping others. By following these steps, you can build a successful career in this rewarding profession.

FAQ

What is the role of a physical therapist?

A physical therapist is a healthcare professional who helps people with injuries or illnesses improve their movement and manage their pain. They work with patients to develop personalized treatment plans and use various techniques to help them regain mobility and function.

What qualifications do I need to become a physical therapist?

To become a physical therapist, you need to earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree from an accredited program. Additionally, you must pass a national licensure exam and meet any other requirements set by your state.

How long does it take to become a physical therapist?

It typically takes about 7 years to become a physical therapist. This includes completing a bachelor’s degree (usually in a related field), earning a DPT degree, and completing any required clinical internships or residencies.

What skills are important for a physical therapist to have?

Some important skills for a physical therapist to have include strong communication and interpersonal skills, as they need to work closely with patients and other healthcare professionals. They also need to have good problem-solving and critical thinking abilities to develop effective treatment plans.

What are some common treatment techniques used by physical therapists?

Physical therapists use a variety of treatment techniques, depending on the needs of their patients. These may include exercises to improve strength and flexibility, manual therapy techniques such as massage or joint mobilization, and modalities like heat or cold therapy. They may also use assistive devices or recommend lifestyle changes to help patients manage their conditions.

Dave Pennells

By Dave Pennells

Dave Pennells, MS, has contributed his expertise as a career consultant and training specialist across various fields for over 15 years. At City University of Seattle, he offers personal career counseling and conducts workshops focused on practical job search techniques, resume creation, and interview skills. With a Master of Science in Counseling, Pennells specializes in career consulting, conducting career assessments, guiding career transitions, and providing outplacement services. Her professional experience spans multiple sectors, including banking, retail, airlines, non-profit organizations, and the aerospace industry. Additionally, since 2001, he has been actively involved with the Career Development Association of Australia.