Physical therapists (PTs) are health care professionals who diagnose and treat individuals of all ages, from newborns to the very oldest, who have medical problems or other health-related conditions that limit their abilities to move and perform functional activities in their daily lives.
PTs examine each individual and develop a plan using treatment techniques to promote the ability to move, reduce pain, restore function, and prevent disability. In addition, PTs work with individuals to prevent the loss of mobility before it occurs by developing fitness- and wellness-oriented programs for healthier and more active lifestyles.
Physical therapists provide care for people in a variety of settings, including hospitals, private practices, outpatient clinics, home health agencies, schools, sports and fitness facilities, work settings, and nursing homes. State licensure is required in each state in which a physical therapist practices.
The Physical Therapy Profession
Physical therapy is a dynamic profession with an established theoretical and scientific base and widespread clinical applications in the restoration, maintenance, and promotion of optimal physical function. For more than 750,000 people every day in the United States, physical therapists:
- Diagnose and manage movement dysfunction and enhance physical and functional abilities.
- Restore, maintain, and promote not only optimal physical function but optimal wellness and fitness and optimal quality of life as it relates to movement and health.
- Prevent the onset, symptoms, and progression of impairments, functional limitations, and disabilities that may result from diseases, disorders, conditions, or injuries.
The terms "physical therapy" and "physiotherapy," and the terms "physical therapist" and "physiotherapist," are synonymous.
As essential participants in the health care delivery system, physical therapists assume leadership roles in rehabilitation; in prevention, health maintenance, and programs that promote health, wellness, and fitness; and in professional and community organizations. Physical therapists also play important roles both in developing standards for physical therapist practice and in developing health care policy to ensure availability, accessibility, and optimal delivery of health care services. Physical therapy is covered by federal, state, and private insurance plans. Physical therapists' services have a positive impact on health-related quality of life.
As clinicians, physical therapists engage in an examination process that includes:
- taking the patient/client history,
- conducting a systems review, and
- performing tests and measures to identify potential and existing problems.
To establish diagnoses, prognoses, and plans of care, physical therapists perform evaluations, synthesizing the examination data and determining whether the problems to be addressed are within the scope of physical therapist practice. Based on their judgments about diagnoses and prognoses and based on patient/client goals, physical therapists:
- provide interventions (the interactions and procedures used in managing and instructing patients/clients),
- conduct re-examinations,
- modify interventions as necessary to achieve anticipated goals and expected outcomes, and
- develop and implement discharge plans.
Physical therapy can be provided only by qualified physical therapists (PTs) or by physical therapist assistants (PTAs) working under the supervision of a physical therapist.
Source: Guide to Physical Therapist Practice, 2nd Edition (2003)
Vision for Physical Therapy
Learn about Vision 2020, APTA's plan for the future of the physical therapy profession.