Basic guide: What do physical therapists do?

Physical therapists use different forms of treatment depending on the type of patient they are caring for.

Physical therapists, sometimes called PTs, help injured or ill people improve their movement and manage their pain. These therapists are often an important part of rehabilitation and treatment of patients with chronic conditions or injuries.

Duties of a physical therapist

physical-therapy-rehabPhysical therapists typically do the following:

  • Review patients’ medical history and any referrals or notes from doctors or surgeons
  • Diagnose patients’ dysfunctional movements by observing them stand or walk and by listening to their concerns, among other methods
  • Set up a plan of care for patients, outlining the patient’s goals and the expected outcome of the plan
  • Use exercises, stretching maneuvers, hands-on therapy, and equipment to ease patients’ pain, help them increase their mobility, prevent further pain or injury, and facilitate health and wellness.
  • Evaluate a patient’s progress, modifying a plan of care and trying new treatments as needed
  • Educate patients and their families about what to expect from and how best to cope with the recovery process

Physical therapists provide care to people of all ages who have functional problems resulting from back and neck injuries; sprains, strains, and fractures; arthritis; amputations; neurological disorders, such as stroke or cerebral palsy; injuries related to work and sports; and other conditions.

Physical therapists are trained to use a variety of different techniques—sometimes called modalities—to care for their patients. These techniques include applying heat and cold and using assistive devices such as crutches, wheelchairs, and walkers and equipment, such as adhesive electrodes which apply electric stimulation to treat injuries and pain.

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The work of physical therapists varies by type of patient. For example, a patient experiencing loss of mobility due to stroke needs different care from that given to an athlete recovering from an injury. Some physical therapists specialize in one type of care, such as orthopedics or geriatrics. Many physical therapists also work at preventing loss of mobility by developing fitness and wellness programs to encourage healthier and more active lifestyles.

Physical therapists work as part of a healthcare team, overseeing the work of physical therapist assistants and aides, and consulting with physicians and surgeons and other specialists.





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