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Physical Therapy Careers, Jobs and Training Information

Physical Therapy Career Overview and Description

Physical therapists work with patients suffering from conditions including arthritis, cerebral palsy, back pain, fractures, heart disease, head injuries, and various accident injuries. They help to relieve pain, increase mobility, re-establish use, and to decrease long-term physical disabilities. After studying a patient’s medical history, physical therapists observe the patient’s posture, strength, motor function, breathing ability, coordination, and balance. Plans are then implemented to treat the patient’s specific conditions. Therapists also assess the patient’s capability of independence in the workplace or community. They also promote overall health and wellness among patients.

Exercise plays a crucial part in physical therapy where it helps to increase endurance, flexibility, and strength. Patients initially work with their muscles to improve range of motion and flexibility. After those improvements are made, patients begin to work on coordination, strength, endurance, and balance to help them gain their independence.

Therapists often teach patients exercises to complete at home that speed up the healing process. To help relieve swelling and pain, therapists use massage, ultrasound, electrical stimuli, and hot and cold compresses. They also help patients learn to use equipment including wheelchairs and prostheses.
By monitoring patient progress and continuing examinations, therapists can alter treatments when necessary and recognize different areas in need of decreased or increased therapy. Therapists also consult with and refer patients to various healthcare workers including audiologists, doctors, social workers, dentists, speech pathologists, teachers, and occupational therapists.

Physical therapists either specialize in a certain area of practice or treat an extensive range of conditions. Areas of specialty include sports medicine, pediatrics, cardiopulmonary, geriatrics, neurology, and orthopedics.

In 2002, there were around 137,000 physical therapy jobs in the U.S.; however, there were more jobs than the number of physical therapists in practice since therapists often have multiple jobs.

Hospitals and various health practitioners provide over 60% of physical therapy jobs. Other therapists work in doctors’ offices, nursing care facilities, home healthcare services, and in outpatient care. In private practices, self-employed therapists contract services as well as see their own patients. Conducting research or teaching is another job option for physical therapists.

Physical Therapy Training and Job Qualifications

To practice physical therapy in the U.S., a license must be obtained. This is accomplished by attending an accredited physical therapy program and by passing the licensing exam. Continuing education is often required to maintain licensure and helps therapists learn innovative therapy techniques.
In a physical therapy program, specific areas of study include therapeutic procedures, biomechanics, examination techniques, human development, manifestations of disease, and neuroanatomy in addition to the traditional study of physics, biology, and chemistry. In order to graduate, students are required to complete supervised clinical experience.

Before applying to a physical therapy program, it is helpful to take classes in physics, biology, social science, mathematics, anatomy, and chemistry. Gaining experience in a physical therapy setting is also important.

To be an effective physical therapist, it is important to have strong people skills, a desire to help others, and compassion. Patience is also important while treating patients with long-term therapy and frustration.

Physcial Therapy Job and Employment Opportunities

Career opportunities for physical therapists are projected to increase through 2012. As the population increases, there are a higher number of people with disabilities who need physical therapy. An increasing elderly and baby-boom population also will require therapy to relieve painful conditions and to rehabilitate physical problems often caused by strokes and heart attacks. More babies with birth defects and an increasing number of trauma victims are surviving because of new technology and will require therapy. New technology may also allow more debilitating conditions to be treated with physical therapy. Unfortunately, limited reimbursement for therapy proposed by the Federal government might slow some job growth.

As the population becomes more health conscious, there will be an increase need for physical therapists to create exercise programs, to assess the safety of workplaces, and to teach preventative care in the workplace and home.

Historical Earnings Information

In 2002, the average annual salary for a physical therapist was around $57,000. Salaries ranged from lower than $40,000 to higher than $86,000.