What to Expect From Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is a healthcare specialty concerned with treating disorders of the musculoskeletal, nervous, and cardiovascular systems and how those disorders affect your physical movement.

Physical therapist helping senior woman rising from a chair.
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Physical therapists are licensed professionals who hold a master’s or doctoral degree (DPT) in physical therapy (though now a doctorate is required to become a physical therapist). They work in a wide variety of settings including hospitals, rehabilitation clinics, out-patient facilities, schools, and nursing homes.

Anytime you are having difficulty performing your normal day-to-day activities means you may benefit from the skilled services of a physical therapist. Your PT can assess your mobility and offer you strategies to help you move better and feel better. Your physical therapist can prescribe exercises to help improve your range of motion (ROM), strength, and balance. A cardiac rehab specialist can help improve your endurance and cardiac function to help you get back to your normal activities.

What Is Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy is a healthcare specialty aimed at diagnosing and treating individuals of all ages who have health conditions that limit their ability to move and perform daily activities. The ultimate goal of physical therapy is to restore maximal functional independence to each individual patient. To achieve this goal, treatments may include exercise, hands-on care, and patient education.

What Is a Physical Therapist?

Physical therapists are licensed professionals who work with people who have disabilities, impairments, or limitations in their overall physical function. These conditions can be the result of disease, injury, or other processes. For example, you may require physical therapy after surgery to help you recover fully and to help you move around safely after your operation.

How Long Does Physical Therapy Take?

How long will physical therapy take is a common question. Although the question itself is a simple one, answering it is more complex. Your physical therapist will assess your needs and develop an individualized plan of care to help you meet your goals. It may take a few sessions or several weeks to achieve your goals.

How Do You Set Appropriate Rehabilitation Goals?

Setting goals is the best way to achieve a successful rehabilitation outcome. When starting physical therapy, you must think what is it that you want to accomplish at the end of your program. The goals you set should be important to you. However, they must also be realistic. Your physical therapist will then work with you to devise an appropriate treatment program to help achieve your rehabilitation goals.

Remember that your rehab goals are changeable; as you recover you may need to set new goals. If you are having difficulty attaining your PT goals, you may need to work with your therapist to adjust your goals. Your physical therapy goals should focus on improving your mobility and overall function so you can do the things you want to do.

What Conditions Does Physical Therapy Treat?

There are many conditions for which physical therapy is an important part of treatment. Accordingly, there are a number of specialty areas in physical therapy focused on specific body systems, disorders, population groups, or types of treatment. Specialty areas in physical therapy include:

  • Cardiovascular and pulmonary (circulatory and respiratory systems)
  • Neurology (brain and nervous system)
  • Orthopedics (musculoskeletal system)
  • Pediatrics (children)
  • Geriatrics (older adults)
  • Women’s health (for instance, pregnancy and menopause)
  • Sports (athletes)
  • Oncology (cancer)
  • Electrophysiology (electricity in diagnosis and treatment)
  • Wound management

If you have any problem that causes pain or difficulty with normal functional mobility, a visit to your physical therapist can help you recover quickly and get back to your normal activity level.

If you are unsure if you need a specialist physical therapist, check in with your healthcare provider. He or she may be able to help you find a qualified PT for your particular condition and situation. Additionally, most states allow you to see a physical therapist without needing to see your healthcare provider first. Patients can check with their insurance to determine if a healthcare provider prescription is necessary.

1 Source
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  1. American Physical Therapy Association. Becoming a PT.

By Laura Inverarity, DO
 Laura Inverarity, PT, DO, is a current board-certified anesthesiologist and former physical therapist.