What is Physical Therapy and How Can It Help You?

Physical therapy is an effective medical treatment used to restore functional movements. Learn how physical therapists can help you control symptoms such as pain, stiffness, and discomfort.

What is Physical Therapy and How Can It Help You?

Physical therapy is a medical treatment used to restore functional movements, such as standing, walking, and moving different parts of the body. It can be an effective treatment for medical conditions or injuries that cause pain, motor dysfunction, or limited mobility. For example, if you like running and you start to have knee pain, a physical therapist can evaluate your movements and develop a treatment plan to help you run without pain. A physical therapist is a health professional who helps you improve the way your body performs physical movements. They will help you control symptoms, such as pain, stiffness, and discomfort, that make it difficult to move.

To become a physical therapist, one must earn a bachelor's degree in a related field and then complete a three-year doctoral program (on average) to receive their doctorate in physical therapy (DPT). While physical therapists cannot prescribe surgery or medications like primary care doctors, they specialize in diagnosis based on movement and their knowledge of the proper functioning of muscles and joints. Licensed physical therapists can choose to pursue a residency or fellowship program to improve their knowledge and practice. Physical therapy also prevents loss of mobility before it occurs through programs aimed at physical conditioning and well-being that result in healthier and more active lifestyles. The centralized application service for physical therapists allows applicants to use a single web-based application and set of materials to apply to several DPT programs. Physical therapists can diagnose patients based on their movement patterns and adapt their treatment plans to their health problems.

Specialization is the process by which a physical therapist draws on a broad base of professional education and practice to develop a greater depth of knowledge and skills related to a particular area of practice. Physical therapists examine each person and then develop a treatment plan to improve their ability to move, reduce or control pain, restore function, and prevent disability. How long you'll need physical therapy depends on what area of your body needs help to move better and on the problems or conditions that caused you to need physical therapy. You may need physical therapy to reduce symptoms of a health problem, such as pain and stiffness, or while you're recovering after an injury or surgery. To obtain a license to practice in their state, they must also pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) and any other state licensing regulations.

Others work with a physical therapist for months or longer to manage the symptoms of a chronic (long-term) condition. Physical therapists diagnose and treat people of all ages, from newborns to people at the end of life. They are movement experts who improve quality of life through prescribed exercise, practical care, and patient education.

Sean Mraz
Sean Mraz

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