To say that physical therapists are health professionals who help people with physical injuries live a healthier life would not be wrong. It would, however, be a bit of an oversimplification.
The entire scope of what a physical therapist does, and how they achieve their objectives of keeping people healthy, is what’s really interesting. And that’s what we’re going to be taking a detailed look at below.
For those who would like to pursue a career as a physical therapist, or those who only wish to learn more about the career so as to decide whether or not it is worth it, you have come to the right place. Keep reading and all should be clear in no time.
Job Description - Who is a Physical Therapist?
When people get injured and suffer from physical complications that limit their movement and make their entire body uncomfortable, most doctors refer them to a physical therapist.
Physical therapists who work with popular athletes to rehabilitate parts of their body after a serious injury are quite popular, but this is not the only area where a physical therapist works.
Before we go deeper into the areas of specialization of physical therapists, it is worth painting a picture of how these experts do what they do.
When a patient is referred to a physical therapist, first they do a thorough check on the patient’s medical records, with the purpose of planning a thorough and personal rehabilitative program geared towards improving the patient’s mobility.
These programs usually involve a combination of exercises, stretches, hands-on therapy, diet, and technology that may help improve motor function.
Duties - What a Physical Therapist Does
Physical therapists work with people of all ages, from all walks of life. During the course of the day, you may find a physical therapist perform any of the following activities:
- Diagnosing a patient’s condition through observation.
- Having conversations with patients to get a clearer idea of what’s going on.
- Formulating a comprehensive yet personalized recovery program from everything they’ve learnt about a patient.
- Making use of technology and other therapeutic aid to help treat a patient.
- Recording and documenting a patient’s progress
- Helping a patient learn how to make use of walking aids
It should also be noted that while physical therapists help people struggling with physical injuries that limit movement, it is not rare to find a physical therapist being vulnerable to back injuries of their own. This is because of the tendency for them to stand, lift, and engage in demanding physical conditions during the course of their jobs.
Where Physical Therapists Work
As of 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed data that showed that there were 238,800 physical therapists in the country.
According to the data, most of these - 36% to be exact - worked in offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiology. 29% worked in local, state and private hospitals while 11% worked in home healthcare services.
Additionally, 5% of physical therapists worked in nursing and residential care facilities while 3% were self-employed.
Areas of Specialization
As mentioned earlier, sports physical therapists are quite popular but they’re not the only kinds of physical therapists. Below is a list of some other areas in which a physical therapist may choose to specialize:
- Clinical electrophysiology
- Cardiovascular, and
Education & Training
To become a practicing physical therapist in the United States, one must first earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree from an accredited program.
These programs tend to last no more than three years before completion. During the course of the program, students will gain knowledge of wide-ranging topics spanning biology, neuroscience, anatomy, biomechanics, kinesiology, physiology, pathology, exercise physiology, ethics and values, evidence-based practice, musculoskeletal system, clinical reasoning, communication, finance, management sciences, and behavioral science.
Becoming a Physical Therapist
There are over two hundred accredited physical therapy programs through which anyone can earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree. The path to becoming a physical therapist usually include the follow steps:
Step 1: Earn a bachelor’s degree: Most programs prefer this degree to be in anatomy, biology, and chemistry.
Step 2: Enroll in a DPT Program
Step 3: Complete a clinical residency: After graduation, physical therapists must complete a residency program or fellowship.
Licensing: Passing the National Physical Therapy Examination is a prerequisite to getting licensed as a physical therapist. Other state-specific requirements may apply.
Become board-certified: This is optional, but many physical therapists obtain additional board certification to enable specialization.
Physical Therapists Salary
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that physical therapists earned an average of $95,620 in 2021.
Those whose earnings fell into the top ten percent took home as much as $127,110. Those who were in the bottom ten percent still earned as much as $61,930.
When sorted by work establishment, data showed that physical therapists in home healthcare services earned the most, with a median salary of $99,800. Those who worked in nursing and residential facilities were not far behind with a mean salary of $99,640.
Physician therapists in hospitals, and those in offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists earned $99,040 and $79,470 respectively.
Why People See Physical Therapists
Doctors refer patients to see physical therapists for a number of reasons and due to a number of conditions. Some of the most popular conditions that may require a trip to a physical therapist include: sports injuries, herniated discs, rotator cuff repair, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction and a series of other orthopedic issues.
All of these conditions vary in terms of how difficult it is to rehabilitate them, and how long the rehabilitation is going to take. Physical therapists, and those they work with, must be patient as these things take time.
Summary & Conclusion
Physical therapists work with patients suffering from physical injuries that limits their motor function. Thanks to their knowledge of these conditions and how to fix them to avoid long-term complications, doctors often refer patients to physical therapists.
While all physical therapists perform the same underlying duties, where they work, who they work with, and how much they earn differ significantly. We have examined all of these and more in the various sections above.