Definition and Overview

Physical therapy is the aspect of health care that deals with functional rehabilitation. It aims to manage disabilities, injuries and impairments by promoting movement via physical intervention. Physical therapy focuses on techniques designed to maximize function, mobility and quality of life in patients with all sorts of health conditions.

In physical therapy, the individual's capacity for movement is evaluated, and realistic goals are aimed for and agreed upon. The process involves encouraging and training the patients to maximize their movement potential in order to help them become as functional as possible. The patient, the caregivers, the primary physician and the therapist are all involved in the practice of physical therapy. It is also common for occupational therapists to work together with physical therapists when helping patients.

Physical therapy typically includes a versatile array of exercises specifically designed for the patient's capabilities and goals. Manual therapy, which includes both active and passive movements, is carried out. Health education and fitness programs are likewise advocated in the practice of physical therapy. Aside from these, physical therapy also promotes wellness and an active lifestyle.

Physical therapy covers a large spectrum of knowledge and practices. There are several areas of specialization that physical therapists can focus on. Pulmonary and cardiac rehabilitation physical therapy optimizes breathing, endurance and function in both preoperative and postoperative cardiothoracic patients. Meanwhile, neurophysiotherapy is geared towards the restoration of lost muscle strength and re-training of daily living activities and ambulation in patients with neurologic disorders such as stroke, cerebral palsy and Parkinson's disease.

Physical therapy for various skin conditions, such as burns and chronic wounds, aims to prevent contractures and promote good wound healing. Orthopedic physical therapists manage a variety of musculoskeletal diseases, such as sprains and spinal cord injuries, among others. It can also aid in faster recovery of patients who have undergone orthopedic surgeries, such as hip replacements and amputations. Closely related to this is sports medicine physical therapy, which is focused on the health of athletes and sports teams, and in the management of the injuries they sustain, which commonly include sprains, ligament tears, and fractures. Physical therapy is also an important aspect of palliative care, helping patients minimize their dependency on caregivers and providing them with a better quality of life.

Aside from all of those, there are also experts in pediatric physical therapy, focusing on improving basic motor skills, coordination and cognitive integration in children, as well as specialists in geriatric physical therapy, focusing on minimizing pain and maximizing function in adult conditions such as arthritis and Alzheimer's disease. Other physical therapy specializations include electrophysiology and women's health.

When You Should See a Physical Therapist

Physical therapy manages a variety of patients, with a wide range of illnesses and injuries. Patients of any age, from the very young to the very old, may undergo physical therapy. Injury, genetics, aging, and diseases can all contribute to the development of medical conditions that limit a person's ability to perform his usual daily activities. Physical therapy can help you develop or restore your strength, flexibility, balance, and endurance, among others.

A personalized program is constructed, depending on the specific needs of the patient. Therapeutic plans almost always include range-of-motion and strengthening exercises. Manual therapy may also be included in order to induce relaxation and decrease pain. Manual therapy is a combination of massage, which relieves pain and improves circulation and mobilization, wherein slow movements are used to loosen the muscles and increase flexibility, and manipulation, wherein pressure, and force are applied to the body to strengthen it. Physical therapy may also include other modalities of treatment, such as cold, heat and even mild electrical stimulation. In certain cases, patients may also be taught how to use adaptive devices, such as crutches, wheelchairs, braces, and prostheses, in order to increase their mobility. Lastly, education is a must. Patients and their families are taught exercises and adaptive techniques that can be practiced at home to prevent further injury.

There are several instances or situations where physical therapy plays an important role in the management of a person's health and well-being. Physical therapy is useful in managing chronic, long-standing disorders so that you can manage and live with your condition better. Physical therapy is also crucial in the recovery and rehabilitation of patients, especially those who were previously healthy and suddenly experienced an injury. The physical therapist can recommend ways on how you should be performing certain activities to decrease pain, increase strength, and minimize risks. Physical therapy is also an important aspect in the rehabilitation of patients with diseases that affect multiple organ systems. A rehabilitation team, composed of various health care professionals including physicians, nurses, physical therapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, and psychiatrists, among others, can create programs to help patients deal with these multi-system diseases, such as stroke and heart diseases.

In addition, physical therapy is also a key factor in the growth and progress of children with special needs, especially those who experience with delays in developmental milestones, such as in children with cerebral palsy and other genetic disorders. Physical therapists for children combine therapy with play, promoting not only physical, but also mental and cognitive health. Physical therapy is usually available in special schools for these children.

You may undergo physical therapy as your sole treatment, or you may use it in conjunction with other forms of treatment, as is common with surgery. Physical therapy may be conducted in a number of settings. Aside from hospitals, physical therapy may also be performed in outpatient clinics, nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, fitness and sports centers, patient's homes, and even in schools and workplaces. Make sure you find a licensed physical therapist or physical therapist assistant in order to maximize the benefits you can get from the therapy.


  • American Physical Therapy Association.
  • International Organization of Physical Therapy.
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