Physical therapists typically work with patients who suffer from a variety of conditions including cerebral palsy, arthritis, back pain, heart disease, fractures, head injuries and various injuries associated with accidents. Other responsibilities include helping to relieve pain, re-establish use, increase mobility and decrease disabilities over the long-term. A physical therapist will study the medical history of a patient as well as observe the patient’s strength, posture, breathing ability, motor function, balance and coordination. A treatment plan will then usually be implemented in order to treat the specific conditions of that patient. Physical therapists will also often assess the capability of independence for the patient within the community or workplace. They are also responsible for promoting health and wellness in their patients.
Physical Therapist Job Responsibilities
An important part of physical therapy is exercise, which assists in increasing flexibility, endurance and strength. Patients will usually begin working with their muscles in order to improve overall range of motion as well as flexibility, under the guidance of a physical therapist. Once those improvements have been made, the therapist will then typically begin working with the patient to improve strength, coordination, balance and endurance so the patient can regain independence.
Physical therapists will also usually instruct patients in regards to exercises they can complete at home in order to speed up the process of healing. To assist in relieving swelling and pain, physical therapists may use ultrasound, massage, hot and cold compresses and electrical stimuli. They will also assist patients in learning how to correctly use equipment that may include prostheses and wheelchairs.
Therapists are able to alter treatment plans as necessary by monitoring patient progress. Different areas of need may be recognized through continuing examinations to determine the need for increased or decreased therapy. Physical therapists may also consult with other healthcare professionals including doctors, audiologists, social workers, dentists, teachers, speech pathologists and occupational therapists.
In many cases a physical therapist will either treat a wide range of conditions or specialize in a particular area. Possible areas of specialization include pediatrics, sports medicine, geriatrics, cardiopulmonary, orthopedics and neurology.
More than 60% of all physical therapists are employed in by hospitals or health practitioners. Other physical therapists may work in nursing care facilities, doctors’ offices, outpatient care and home healthcare services. Physical therapists may also be self-employed in private practices. Another option is teaching or conducting research.
Employment opportunities for physical therapist are expected to increase through the year 2012. The number of people with disabilities who are in need of physical therapy is expected to increase along with the population, giving rise to an increased need for physical therapists. An increasing baby-boom and elderly population will also contribute to the need for physical therapists. Physical therapists may also choose to specialize in pediatrics and treat children who are born with birth defects through a wide range of new technology.
Physical therapy can be physical demanding due to the need to kneel, stoop, lift, crouch and stand for long periods of time. Physical therapists may also need to move heavy equipment as well as lift patients or assist them with walking, standing or turning.
Most physical therapists work full-time approximately 40 hours per week. Some weekend or evening work may be required to fit the needs of patients.
After gaining experience, some physical therapists choose to become board certified within a particular specialty. There are also advancement opportunities in research or academia.
Physical Therapist Training and Education Requirements
As licensure is required, individuals who are interested in becoming a physical therapist must attend an accredited training program and take a licensure exam. In most instances, continuing education is required in order to maintain the license. Continuing education also assists therapists in learning new therapy techniques.
Specific areas of study in a physical therapy program may include biomechanics, therapeutic procedures, examination techniques, manifestations of disease, human development and neuroanatomy. Traditional areas of study such as chemistry, biology and physics are also usually included in a program. Students are required to complete clinical experience, which is supervised, in order to graduate.
It is usually helpful to take classes in biology, social science, physics, anatomy, math and chemistry prior to applying to a physical therapy program. Experience in a physical therapy environment can also be crucial.
Physical therapists must have strong people skills, compassion and a desire to help others in order to succeed in this career. It is also important to have patience as physical therapists often treat patients who may be frustrated and in need of long-term therapy.
Physical Therapist Salary and Wages
The average annual salary for physical therapists in 2002 was approximately $57,000. Salaries range from less than $40,000 to more than $86,000. Wages may depend upon level of education as well as level of experience.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Physical Therapist Certifications
In order to practice physical therapy in the United States, therapists must obtain a license. Licensure can be obtained by attending a physical therapy program and passing the licensure exam.