Physical therapists assist patients with debilitating conditions such as back pain, arthritis, fractures, sports injuries, head injuries, strokes, and cerebral palsy. They provide therapeutic services to improve a patient’s mobility, alleviate pain, and help them cope with permanent physical disabilities. They may use therapeutic equipment and techniques such as massage to improve muscle strength, whirlpool baths, ultrasonic machines, and ultraviolet and infrared lamps. They teach patients how to do exercises to improve their physical health.
Physical therapy has many specialties such as cardiopulmonary, geriatrics, neurology, orthopedics, and pediatrics. Physical therapists practice in many areas that can include outpatient clinics or offices, inpatient rehabilitation facilities, extended care facilities, private homes, education and research centers, schools, hospices, industrial workplaces or other occupational environments, fitness centers, and sports training facilities. They are usually part of a health care team that creates programs for patients based on their particular needs and condition. They can also teach patients and their families how to use such medical devices as wheelchairs, braces, canes and crutches, and artificial limbs. Typical duties can include measuring a patient’s motor function, balance and coordination, muscle strength and performance, range of motion, creating and implementing treatment plans, assessing a patient’s ability to function independently, and writing progress reports for doctors.
According to the World Confederation for Physical Therapy, physical therapists are qualified and professionally required to:
- Undertake a comprehensive examination/assessment/evaluation of the patient/client or needs of a client group
- Formulate a diagnosis, prognosis, and plan
- Provide consultation within their expertise and determine when patients/clients need to be referred to another healthcare professional
- Implement a physical therapist intervention/treatment programme
- Determine the outcomes of any interventions/treatments
- Make recommendations for self management.
Physical therapists should have strong interpersonal skills to effectively educate patients about their physical therapy treatments and to work together with the patient’s family. Therapists should also be compassionate and have a strong desire to help people in need.
A physical therapist must have completed a physical therapy program with a master’s or doctoral degree. Courses will include biology, chemistry, and physics. They will also be required to complete specific courses such as therapeutic procedures, biomechanics, neuroanatomy, human growth and development, and disease pathology. To be a licensed therapist, graduates of accredited programs must pass national and state licensing exams. In order to maintain their licenses, many states require that physical therapists take continuing education programs and participate and complete therapy workshops.
Physical therapists normally work in large areas due to the physical therapy programs. They are involved with a team of health professionals. Most physical therapists work forty hours per week. Physical therapists can also work as independent contractors.
Salaries vary according to education and experience. In 2004 the median salary of physical therapists was $60,180 per year. Benefits for salaried physical therapists included paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans.
Employment of physical therapists is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations through 2016. Facilities and clinics are now making more use of the expertise that physical therapists can provide.
Due to an increased interest in exercise, high risk sports, and an aging population, physical therapists will continue to be in great demand. Future medical achievements will also increase the survival rate of trauma victims, therefore causing an increase demand for rehabilitative care. Growth may also result from advances in medical technology which will allow for more innovative treatment of serious disabling conditions. Physical therapy can be both a rewarding and challenging and career.