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Health Care Providers: Physical Therapists

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What Is Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy (PT) helps people keep or improve physical movement and use. It’s needed when someone’s movement is affected by slow development, disease, injury, or disability. PT uses exercises, physical modalities (such as massage and electrotherapy), assistive devices, and patient education and training.

What Is a Physical Therapist?

Physical therapists (also called PTs) help people with exercises, hands-on care, and patient education. 

Why Would Someone Need One?

Physical therapists treat conditions that can limit daily activity, such as:

They offer services such as:

  • activities of daily living (ADL) training to help with basics like eating and bathing
  • activities to build endurance
  • activities to help with coordination and balance
  • adaptive/assistive device training (such as using a cane or walker)
  • aquatic therapy (in-pool exercise to improve muscle strength and endurance)
  • concussion management
  • gait training (to improve how a child walks)
  • hand therapy 
  • increasing overall fitness, range of motion, and flexibility
  • learning to use a prosthetic
  • pain management
  • teaching good posture to prevent pain and injury
  • sports medicine therapy

What Is Their Training?

Physical therapists typically have 7 years of training that includes:

  • 4 years of pre-professional education (pre-PT courses) at a college or university
  • 3 years of schooling in a doctor of physical therapy (DPT) program

They also might have expertise in a subspecialty area offered by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS). ABPTS subspecialties include:

  • cardiovascular & pulmonary certified specialist (CCS)
  • neurologic certified specialist (NCS)
  • orthopedic certified specialist (OCS)
  • pediatric certified specialist (PCS)
  • sports certified specialist (SCS)

Good to Know

Physical therapists work to prevent injuries by teaching patients safer movements and motions.

PTs work in many different places, including:

  • private practices
  • nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities
  • hospitals and emergency rooms
  • home health (the physical therapist travels to your home)
Date reviewed: September 2022