Physical Therapy: Definition and Overview

Author: Thomas C. Weiss - Contact: Contact Details
Published: 2016/02/17 - Updated: 2020/07/23
Peer-Reviewed: N/A
On This Page: Summary - Main Article - About/Author

Synopsis: Information regarding physical therapy including rehabilitative health exercise and equipment designed to assist people regain or improve physical abilities. Physical therapy helps to restore a person's best ability to function through minimizing physical impairment, disability-related congenital and acquired conditions, and functional limitations. Physical therapists can help people with disabilities to return to work through work injury prevention education and ergonomic workstation evaluations, as well as through making recommendations for workplace accommodations.


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Defining Physical Therapy

Physical therapy - (physiotherapy (PT)) is defined as a health care profession that re-mediates impairments and promotes mobility, function, and quality of life through examination, diagnosis, and physical intervention (therapy using mechanical force and movement). It is carried out by physical therapists (known as physiotherapists in most countries) and physical therapist assistants (known as physical rehabilitation therapists or physiotherapy assistants in some countries). In addition to clinical practice, other activities encompassed in the physical therapy profession include research, education, consultation, and administration. In many settings, physical therapy services may be provided alongside, or in conjunction with, other medical or rehabilitation services, including occupational therapy.

What Are Physical Therapists?

People from all age groups, to include people who have just been born and those who are seniors, have the need to move and function. Physical therapists are able to work with everyone, at any point during their life. A physical therapist is an expert in the way a person's body works and moves. They promote wellness, healthy lifestyles, and also teach people ways to prevent injuries and loss of movement.

A physical therapist assists people in maintaining their health through the prevention of future deterioration or illness. They assist people to make environmental adaptations which enable people to function independently. Physical therapists work with many different kinds of people, from adults who experience sciatica or other forms of after-effects from an injury, to infants who have been born with musculoskeletal birth defects. Physical therapists are all college graduates and must have passed a state licensing examination. A number of physical therapists have earned a masters degree, or even a clinical doctorate degree.

Other physical therapists are certified in areas of specializations, such as geriatric physical therapy or orthopedic therapy. Once a therapist has become licensed, they have the ability to work anywhere, to include sports centers, hospitals, schools, nursing homes, private offices, clinics, or the homes of individuals. There are a variety of ways that a physical therapist can apply treatment to people. Perhaps the best known is exercise that assists a person who has experienced an injury, or gone through a surgery. A physical therapist might also move or manipulate a person's joint, apply other forms of therapy, or massage a muscle. Forms of therapy a physical therapist may use include hot packs, ice, electrical stimulation, or ultrasound.

Physical therapists work with people to help them meet the challenges they face related to an illness or injury. Their goal is to assist people to regain functional independence and return to a full life at home and in their community. Physical therapists work with the person's doctor and other members of the person's health care team to design a therapy program that focuses on meeting the person's recovery goals.

Among the more common reasons people visit a physical therapist include:

A person's physical therapist measures and evaluates their abilities in certain areas. These areas include:

  • Speed
  • Mobility
  • Balance
  • Strength
  • Flexibility
  • Movement
  • Coordination
  • Respiratory endurance
  • Cardiovascular endurance

The physical therapist also introduces ways that the person's wellness and fitness can be improved, leading to long life and good health. The therapist examines the person's functional skills, as well as their needs for moving around their home and community, in order to increase their potential for living a life that is both productive and satisfying. The program the physical therapist helps to design for the person might introduce assistive forms of technologies the person needs to help them reach their goals. The types of treatment a physical therapist presents to the people they treat are aimed a improving some different things.

The Person's Ability To Move in Their Environment:

Physical therapy can help people through a number of different means. Gait training, either with or without orthotics or prostheses, or partial weight bearing or suspended gait training, as well as standing programs in order to prepare for walking are things that a therapist can help with. Balance training, lower extremity orthotic training, artificial limb fitting and training, muscle re-education and motor control training are as well. Bed mobility and transfer training, and wheelchair mobility skills are other things a physical therapist can assist people with.

Flexibility, Strength, Pain Management, Skin Care and Fitness:

A physical therapist is able to assist people with wheelchair accessible conditioning and strengthening, pool therapy, stretching programs, strengthening programs, pain control, joint motion and soft tissue healing. They can help people with weight management as well.

Assistive Technologies Use:

Physical therapists can help with wheelchair and seating evaluations related to a number of different manual and power wheelchairs or scooters. These evaluations help people to sit comfortably and in a position that enables them to pursue their daily activities. A physical therapist can help you to pursue, 'pressure mapping,' that helps you to evaluate skin pressures related to the seating of your wheelchair, as well as cushion evaluations. They can also help you to work with others to make sure that all of your wheelchair technology is working well for you.

Physical therapists can help people with disabilities to return to work through work injury prevention education and ergonomic workstation evaluations, as well as through making recommendations for workplace accommodations. They are able to perform physical work performance evaluations. A physical therapist can assist with work conditioning evaluations and work site evaluations by going to work with a person to help them determine ways to assist them in performing their job.

A Physical Therapy Session Should Include

A physical therapist should address any risk factors related to the person, as well as presenting a home exercise program. They should provide suggestions for prevention, and additional pain reduction treatments. There are also a number of things that a physical therapy evaluation should include.

When you approach a physical therapist, they should ask you how you injured yourself, when the pain you are experiencing first appeared, whether you have experienced the pain before, and what makes the pain either better or worse. The physical therapist should ask you what you were doing right before you felt pain, and what your daily routine involves as well. The therapist should pursue a physical examination, asking you to perform certain movements so they can determine which ones increase your pain. They should examine your posture, palpitate your muscles to look for any painful spasms or increased tension. The physical therapist should check the quality and mobility of the motion of your joints, and potentially check your reflexes.

Treatment With Physical Therapy

The type of physical therapy treatment a person receives is dependent upon their condition. Complete physical therapy treatment can include some different elements. Pain reduction might include the use of ice, heat, relaxation, massage, joint mobilization, stretches, or the use of electrical stimulation or ultrasound.

A person may be presented with a home program, starting out with a list of thing they should avoid. The person's home program can gradually increase as they make progress to include things such as stretches, exercises, and some forms of simple first aid. The overall goal is to regain control over the symptoms the person is experiencing, eliminating the cause of the problem. Methods of prevention can also be a part of the person's home program.

Methods of prevention training can include discussions regarding risk factors related to the person and their specific condition. They can also include exercises designed to increase the person's flexibility and strength. A physical therapist can help a person to learn how to sit, bend, stand, move as well as return to their sports activities and more, without re-injuring themselves. They can make suggestions regarding basic equipment, to include lumbar supports, chairs, wrist rests and more.

Author Credentials:

Thomas C. Weiss is a researcher and editor for Disabled World. Thomas attended college and university courses earning a Masters, Bachelors and two Associate degrees, as well as pursing Disability Studies. As a Nursing Assistant Thomas has assisted people from a variety of racial, religious, gender, class, and age groups by providing care for people with all forms of disabilities from Multiple Sclerosis to Parkinson's; para and quadriplegia to Spina Bifida.


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Cite This Page (APA): Thomas C. Weiss. (2016, February 17). Physical Therapy: Definition and Overview. Disabled World. Retrieved December 6, 2023 from

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