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Physical Therapist Career Overview

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To say that physical therapists are health professionals who help people with physical injuries live healthier lives would not be wrong. It would be an oversimplification.

The entire scope of what physical therapist does and how they achieve their objectives of keeping people healthy is what’s interesting. And that’s what we’ll 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 job to decide whether 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 famous athletes to rehabilitate parts of their body after a severe injury are well-known, 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, they thoroughly check the patient’s medical records to plan a comprehensive 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 day, you may find a physical therapist performing any of the following activities:

  • Diagnosing a patient’s condition through observation.
  • Having conversations with patients to understand better what’s going on.
  • Formulating a comprehensive yet personalized recovery program from everything they’ve learned about a patient.
  • Making use of technology and other therapeutic aids 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 vulnerable to back injuries. This is because they tend to stand, lift, and engage in demanding physical conditions during their jobs.

Where Physical Therapists Work

As of 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed data showing 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:

  • Oncology
  • Geriatrics
  • Clinical electrophysiology
  • Neurology
  • Orthopedics
  • Pediatrics
  • Cardiovascular, and
  • Sports

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 up to three years before completion. During 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 systems, 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 includes the following 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: Physical therapists must complete a residency program or fellowship after graduation.
  • 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 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 just a little behind, with a mean wage of $99,640.

Physician therapists in hospitals and 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 several reasons and due to several conditions. Some of the most widespread conditions that may require a trip to a physical therapist include sports injuries, herniated discs, rotator cuff repair, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction, and other orthopedic issues.

These conditions vary regarding how difficult it is to rehabilitate them and how long they will 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 limit their motor function. Doctors often refer patients to physical therapists because of their knowledge of these conditions and how to fix them to avoid long-term complications.

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.