PHYSICAL THERAPIST Descriptions

Physical Therapists (PTs) are movement experts. They improve quality of life through individually prescribed exercises, skilled hands-on care, and tailored education. PTs are licensed medical specialists who diagnose and treat people with medical conditions that impact their ability to do the things they want to do. Physical Therapists work to prevent injuries from occurring and to promote health and wellbeing.

Starting in 2016, all Physical Therapist accredited educational programs graduate clinicians with an entry-level doctorate degree which means that Individuals who graduate from these programs hold the title of “Doctor of Physical Therapy.”  After graduation, physical therapists may further their knowledge and specialize through continuing education courses, residency, and advanced board-specialty training.

The Physical Therapist may be assisted by a Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA). The PTA provides care under the direction and supervision of the Physical Therapist. Physical Therapist’s Assistant education requires a minimum of an Associate Degree from an accredited program.

Physical Therapists are movement experts who examine each person to identify the problem and develop a treatment plan. This may be to improve the ability to move, manage pain, restore function or prevent disability. PTs do this in consultation with each person to develop a plan that meets their lifestyle and goals.

The PT may use:

  • Exercise to build strength, increase endurance and improve flexibility and balance.
  • Hands-on-care to improve joint mobility, stretch muscles, and improve circulation.
  • Modalities (Hot/Cold/Electrical stimulation) to assist with wound healing or managing pain and swelling and promote movement.
  • Education to help improve how you move, work and play.

Physical Therapists can work to reduce fall risk in the following ways:

  • Conduct a detailed medical history and physical examination to determine problems that are contributing to your fall risk
  • Provide an individualized program to address weaknesses, joint stiffness, poor balance, and other movement problems to promote your ability to stay independent
  • Create an exercise plan based on your personal goals to ensure you get exactly what you need to avoid injuries related to falls
  • Give recommendations to help you be safe and independent in your home
  • Collaborate as part of the interprofessional care team related to factors such as medications, blood pressure issues, or medical conditions that can increase fall risk
  • Teach you how to get on and off the floor as part of an exercise program so that if you fall you can get up without help

Yes! Physical Therapists have knowledge and skills related to understanding the many different body systems required for optimal balance and how these systems need to function together to keep a person moving the way they want. PTs receive training in managing conditions that can impair balance including, but not limited to the following:

  • Stroke, Brain Injury, Parkinson’s Disease, Dementia, and Multiple Sclerosis
  • Arthritis and Joint Replacements
  • Chronic Pain
  • Diabetes
  • Broken bones related to poor bone health or fall-related injuries
  • Amputation
  • Deconditioning and general weakness
  • And many, many more!

Physical Therapists all meet the same education requirements. Because Physical Therapists’ practice is broad, many choose to specialize in one or more areas. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) recognizes 9 specialty areas of physical therapist practice. Geriatrics is the specialty of working with ageing adults.

If you are over 50, you may wish to look for a Board-Certified Clinical Specialist in Geriatric Physical Therapy. This may be shortened to the initials GCS. A geriatric clinical specialist has specialized training regarding the unique needs of the aging adult. They diagnose, treat, and prevent age-related functional problems.

Not all Physical Therapists choose to become specialists and there may not be one in your area. Choose a PT you feel comfortable with, who listens to your concerns, and who you feel best meets your personal needs.

Physical Therapists practice across healthcare settings including outpatient clinics, nursing homes, and hospitals. A listing of Physical Therapists can be found here. This list can be sorted by specialty practice areas to best find the physical therapy professions that meets your needs.

The APTA has information about how to prepare for a PT visit here. Below are a few recommendations that physical therapy professionals say help make the first visit go smoothly:

  • Be on time or early to fill out all paperwork
  • Bring a list of all the medications you take (including herbal supplements and non-prescription drugs).
  • Create a list of your symptoms, problems, goals, and any questions you have.
  • Bring a copy of any tests (such as blood draws, x-rays, or other imaging) you may have had related to this problem.
  • Bring your glasses or hearing aids if you use them.
  • Bring any assistive devices (cane, walker, wheelchair) that you typically use
  • Be open and honest about your concerns at your visit: PTs cannot address what they do not know about