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What is Physical Therapy?

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)

3 Comments
  1. Really amazing guide. Very valuable content. Thank you very much for sharing..

  2. My father had to go through physical therapy a while ago, and I didn’t know really what it was. That’s great that it can prevent onset symptoms of diseases and disorders. I didn’t know that it was so helpful. I thought it was to only help with muscle problems. Thanks for the information!

  3. I didn’t know that physical therapists were also involved in prevention programs. It’s good to know more about what physical therapists do. It makes sense that they will need to compile your health history and do some tests to diagnose what might be the cause of the problem.

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