About Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is a dynamic profession with an established theoretical and scientific base and widespread clinical applications in restoring, maintaining, and promoting optimal physical function.

Physical therapists are healthcare professionals who help individuals maintain, restore, and improve movement, activity, and functioning, thereby enabling optimal performance and enhancing health, well-being, and quality of life. Their services prevent, minimize, or eliminate body functions and structures impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions.

Who benefits from Physical Therapy? Student working with patient on table

Physical therapy is provided for individuals of all ages who have or may develop impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions related to (1) conditions of the musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, cardiovascular, pulmonary, and/or integumentary systems or (2) the negative effects attributable to unique personal and environmental factors as they relate to human performance.

Physical Therapists as Members of the Healthcare Team

Physical therapists play vital roles in today's healthcare environment and are recognized as essential providers of rehabilitation and habilitation, performance enhancement, and prevention and risk-reduction services. Physical therapists also play important roles in developing standards for physical therapist practice and health care policy to ensure the availability, accessibility, and optimal provision of physical therapy.

What Physical Therapists do

students talking in classPhysical Therapy Examination and Evaluation

As clinicians, physical therapists engage in an examination process that includes taking the history including a review of systems, conducting a systems review, and performing tests and measures to identify potential and existing problems. To establish diagnoses, prognoses, and plans of care, physical therapists perform evaluations, synthesizing the examination data and determining whether the issues to be addressed are within the scope of physical therapist practice or whether a referral to another health care provider is indicated.

Physical Therapy Diagnosis and Prognosis

Based on their judgments about diagnoses and prognoses and based on individual goals, physical therapists provide interventions (the interactions and procedures used in managing and instructing patients or clients), conduct reexaminations, modify interventions as necessary to achieve goals and outcomes, and develop and implement plans for conclusion of care.

Physical Therapy Plan of Care

Goals for physical therapy often relate to the capacity of individuals to do what is important to them in their daily activities and roles. Physical therapists design individualized plans of care based on clinical judgment, the best available evidence, and an individual's situation and goals. They collaborate with other healthcare professionals to address individual needs and provide efficient and effective care across the continuum of healthcare settings. In addition, physical therapists provide consultation to individual clients, other health care practitioners, facilities, and organizations in assessing the need for physical therapy and the type of services needed for an individual.

Guide to Physical Therapist Practice 3.0. Alexandria, VA: American Physical Therapy Association; 2014. Available at: http://guidetoptpractice.apta.org/. Accessed 22 Oct 2014.