Physical therapists provide services that help
restore function, improve mobility, relieve pain,
and prevent or limit permanent physical disabilities
of patients suffering from injuries or disease. They
restore, maintain, and promote overall fitness and
health. Their patients include accident victims and
individuals with disabling conditions such as
low-back pain, arthritis, heart disease, fractures,
head injuries, and cerebral palsy.
Physical therapists examine patientsí medical histories
and then test and measure the patientsí strength,
range of motion, balance and coordination, posture,
muscle performance, respiration, and motor function.
They also determine patientsí ability to be
independent and reintegrate into the community or
workplace after injury or illness. Next, physical
therapists develop plans describing a treatment
strategy, its purpose, and its anticipated outcome.
Physical therapist assistants, under the direction
and supervision of a physical therapist, may be
involved in implementing treatment plans with
patients. Physical therapist aides perform routine
support tasks, as directed by the therapist.
Treatment often includes exercise for patients
who have been immobilized and lack flexibility,
strength, or endurance. Physical therapists
encourage patients to use their own muscles to
increase their flexibility and range of motion
before finally advancing to other exercises that
improve strength, balance, coordination, and
endurance. The goal is to improve how an individual
functions at work and at home.
Physical therapists also use electrical
stimulation, hot packs or cold compresses, and
ultrasound to relieve pain and reduce swelling. They
may use traction or deep-tissue massage to relieve
pain. Therapists also teach patients to use
assistive and adaptive devices, such as crutches,
prostheses, and wheelchairs. They also may show
patients exercises to do at home to expedite their
As treatment continues, physical therapists
document the patientís progress, conduct periodic
examinations, and modify treatments when necessary.
Besides tracking the patientís progress, such
documentation identifies areas requiring more or
Physical therapists often consult and practice
with a variety of other professionals, such as
physicians, dentists, nurses, educators, social
workers, occupational therapists, speech-language
pathologists, and audiologists.
Some physical therapists treat a wide range of
ailments; others specialize in areas such as
pediatrics, geriatrics, orthopedics, sports
medicine, neurology, and cardiopulmonary physical