The physical therapist (PT) is a medical professional who works to improve the quality of life of patients with movement disorders. This can include physical disabilities caused by injury, illness, or surgery as well as neurological and musculoskeletal problems like strokes and spinal cord injuries.
PTs diagnose problems and create a treatment plan, administering therapies to help patients recover. They typically work with patients on a regular basis until it is determined that the patient’s condition has improved enough for them to manage at home.
There are many specialties within the field of physical therapy. Some PTs may focus on sports medicine, helping athletes heal from injuries and reduce their risk of future injuries. Others might work with people who have been diagnosed with cancer to assist them with managing pain and limiting the side effects of chemotherapy.
Some PTs focus on women’s health, addressing the unique musculoskeletal issues that females face, from pelvic pain to osteoporosis. Other PTs might specialize in pediatrics, working with infants and children who have developmental or movement disorders.
The vast majority of PTs in the United States hold a doctorate degree, called a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT). In order to practice in the U.S., a physical therapist must pass the National Physical Therapy Examination and complete state licensure requirements, which vary by state but usually involve passing a law exam and having a criminal background check. Most PTs also hold malpractice insurance, which is required for all healthcare professionals.