What is physical therapy?
It's an important question, and the answer will help
you understand how a physical therapist can improve
your ability to move and function, while also benefiting
your general fitness and health.
Physical therapists are experts in "the science
of healing and the art of caring." This is what
The Science of Healing
Patients and physicians are demanding the talents
of physical therapists for conservative management of
a wide variety of conditions. In many cases, patients
are being sent to physical therapy instead of surgery.
Physical therapists help people with orthopedic conditions
such as low back pain or osteoporosis; joint and soft
tissue injuries such as fractures and dislocations;
neurologic conditions such as stroke, traumatic brain
injury, or Parkinson's disease; connective tissue injuries
such as burns or wounds; cardiopulmonary and circulatory
conditions such as congestive heart failure and chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease; and workplace injuries
including repetitive stress disorders and sports injuries.
Physical therapists practice in a variety of settings,
including hospitals, private practices, outpatient clinics,
home health agencies, schools, sports and fitness facilities,
work settings, and nursing homes.
Some physical therapists seek advanced certification
in a clinical specialty, such as orthopedic, neurologic,
cardiovascular and pulmonary, pediatric, geriatric,
sports physical therapy, or electrophysiological testing
The Art of Caring
The individualized, "hands on" approach
that characterizes physical therapist care is highly
valued by patients. When a physical therapist sees a
patient for the first time, he or she examines that
individual and develops a plan of care that promotes
the ability to move, reduces pain, restores function,
and prevents disability. The physical therapist and
the patient then work side-by-side to make sure that
the goals of the treatment plan are met.
Therapeutic exercise and functional training are the
cornerstones of physical therapist treatment. Depending
on the particular needs of a patient, physical therapists
may "manipulate" a joint (that is, perform
certain types of passive movements at the end of the
patient's range of motion) or massage a muscle to promote
proper movement and function. Physical therapists may
use other techniques such as electrotherapy, ultrasound
(high-frequency waves that produce heat), hot packs,
and ice in addition to other treatments when appropriate.
Physical therapists will also work with individuals
to prevent loss of mobility by developing fitness- and
wellness-oriented programs for healthier and more active
It is important to know that physical therapy can
be provided only by qualified physical therapists or
by physical therapist assistants working under the supervision
of a physical therapist.