Physical therapists evaluate and treat people with health problems resultingfrom injury or disease. They assess joint motion, muscle strength and endurance, function of heart and lungs, and performance of activities required in daily living. Physical therapists employ a wide range of therapeutic exercise techniques, cardiovascular endurance training, and training in activities of daily living. Typical examples of persons who might benefit from physical therapy include an automobile mechanic with an injured back, an elderly person with arthritis; a newborn baby with a birth defect; a professional athlete in training; a stroke victim; a crippled child; a pregnant woman; and an overstressed business executive.
Physical therapy aids people who are recovering from injury or a disease by making them stronger, relieving their pain, and helping them to regain use ofan affected limb or to relearn such daily activities as walking, dressing, and bathing. Some patients recovering from surgery require physical therapy aspart of their recovery process. In these cases, the physical therapist attempts to achieve normal mobility through the relief of pain and the rehabilitation of impaired muscle function. The therapist may employ active or passive exercises designed to strengthen specific muscles or to coordinate muscle movement. In passive exercises, the therapist manipulates the affected parts untilthe patient is able to do so alone. In hydrotherapy, the patient exercises in water, which requires a smaller expenditure of energy than exercises out ofwater. Patients who are entirely immobilized may begin physical therapy in bed with massage and the application of heat.
Physical therapists also assist people in remaining well and safe from injury. Physical therapists teach people the importance of physical fitness and show them how to avoid injuries at work or play. They also design and supervisepersonalized exercise programs geared at helping people increase their overall fitness and muscular strength and endurance.
Physical therapy techniques may include therapeutic exercise, joint mobilization and range-of-motion exercises, cardiovascular endurance training, relaxation exercises, therapeutic massage, biofeedback, training in various activities of daily living, wound care, pulmonary physical therapy, and training in moving about. Specific therapies including traction, ultrasound, diathermy, electrotherapy, cryotherapy, hydrotherapy, and laser therapy may also be applied during treatment.
Although many physical therapists work in hospitals, more than 70 percent canbe found in private physical therapy offices, community health centers, corporate or industrial health centers, sports facilities, research institutions,rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, home health agencies, schools, pediatric centers, and colleges and universities. As a specialist in rehabilitation, the physical therapist typically works with other health care personnel (including physicians, occupational therapists, rehabilitation nurses, and psychologists) to determine the patient's goals; evaluates patients and implementstreatment programs; teaches patients to use prosthetic devices; and providesinstruction to patients to continue the recovery when they are no longer under the direct care of the physical therapist. As a community health worker, the physical therapist may administer rehabilitative care in the home; teach prenatal and postnatal exercise classes; evaluate and treat children in publicschools; and teach back-care classes to prevent back pain and injury. As anindustrial therapist, the physical therapist may determine physical requirements for specific jobs; evaluate and treat an employee's job-related physicalproblems; identify potentially dangerous work conditions; modify job-relatedtasks to prevent injuries; and provide treatment to injured workers. As a sports therapist, the physical therapist may evaluate an athlete's performance abilities; condition athletes to improve their performance; recommend specialequipment to reduce injuries; and develop fitness programs for the general public. As a researcher, the physical therapist may participate in scientific studies that will lead to new knowledge, new technologies, and more effectivepatient care. As an educator, the physical therapist may help prepare students for careers in physical therapy; teach entry-level and graduate-level physical therapy courses; participate in scholarly activities that contribute to the understanding of physical therapy; and participate in a variety of serviceactivities in the university and community. As an administrator, the physical therapist may manage physical therapy departments and clinics and act as aconsultant to colleagues and health care providers.
With Americans becoming more health- and exercise-conscious, participating insports and fitness activities, more physical therapists will be needed to treat and help prevent knee, leg, back, shoulder, and other musculoskeletal injuries. The post War World II baby boom generation is now aging and beginningto experience conditions common to older people such as arthritis, stroke, heart disease, and other prolonged-care conditions. Physical therapists will becalled on to care for them.