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Physical Therapists | What Do They Do?

Physical therapists typically do the following:

  • Diagnose patients’ dysfunctional movements by watching them stand or walk and by listening to their concerns, among other methods
  • Set up a plan for their patients, outlining the patient's goals and the planned treatments
  • Use exercises, stretching maneuvers, hands-on therapy, and equipment to ease patients’ pain and to help  them increase their ability to move
  • Evaluate a patient’s progress, modifying a treatment plan and trying new treatments as needed
  • Educate patients and their families about what to expect during recovery from injury and illness and how best to cope with what happens

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; stroke; birth conditions, such as 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, hands-on stimulation or massage, and using assistive and adaptive devices and equipment.



The work of physical therapists varies with the type of patients they serve. For example, a patient suffering from loss of mobility due to Parkinson’s disease needs different care than an athlete recovering from an injury. Some physical therapists specialize in one type of care, such as pediatrics (treating children) or sports physical therapy.

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. Physical therapists also work at preventing loss of mobility by developing fitness- and wellness-oriented programs to encourage healthier and more active lifestyles..

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition


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