What Does a Physical Therapist Do?

Physical Therapists are movement experts.  All Physical Therapists (PTs) hold at least a 4-year undergraduate degree and many hold graduate degrees in Physical Therapy.  The current standard for new Physical Therapists is a 3-year Doctorate of Physical Therapy degree (DPT).

Known as Physiotherapists in other countries, Physical Therapists work with people to restore movement, relieve pain, improve strength, and to prevent disability.  As movement experts, Physical Therapists role in patient care includes the following:

Strength, Endurance, Flexibility, Range of Motion

The training of Physical Therapists is heavily centered on the mechanics of movement.  PTs understand how to apply the fundament

what does a physical therapist do

al principles of muscle cell function and tissue recovery as they help to strengthen and restore movement in over 750,000 people every day.

Balance, Body Mechanics, Postural Control

As movement experts, Physical therapists can improve the balance and posture of patients through individualized programs designed to teach people how to stay healthy on their own.  PTs empower their patients through education and specific exercise plans so they can return to living better.

Mobility Tasks: Walking, running, stair climbing, and transfers.

Physical Therapists help to restore the basic movements that we take for granted everyday.  Skilled PTs are experts in gait analysis and tasks such as climbing stairs or helping people in transferring to chairs or beds.

What Do Physical Therapists Do?

In many states, you can see a Physical Therapist directly without a referral.  You may also be referred to Physical Therapy from your physician.  During your visit, the physical therapist will do the following:


A thorough history will guide the PT in understanding how to approach your situation.  Trained to perform a review of systems, your Physical Therapist will look beyond your immediate source of pain and will work to rule out other potential diagnoses by using standardized tests and measures.


With the information obtained through your history and the tests/measurements, Physical Therapists use a PT diagnosis to guide their treatment.  What you call low back pain may actually be a rotation syndrome that may be corrected through therapy.


Physical Therapists excel at creating unique programs to help restore movement and to relieve pain.  In some cases, Physical Therapists can find a resolution to a patient’s pain within one treatment session.  PT’s often work with people who need rehabilitation after a major surgery, which can last 3-4 months or more.


Physical Therapists empower people by teaching them ways to live without pain through exercise and restored movement patterns.  Movement is the best way to prevent a multitude of diseases, and since PTs are movement experts, they also specialize in prevention.


As a Physical Therapist, you contribute to a growing body of knowledge in the field of human movement and rehabilitation.  Continuing education is a significant aspect of maintaining and renewing your license.  As a PT, I use a mix of in person and online continuing education options like MedBridge to keep up to date on the latest trends in therapy.  (If you are a therapist, you can use the MedBridge promo code “PTProgress” to save 40% on your CEUs.)

Physical Therapy Specialties

You can find Physical Therapists working a variety of settings, including:

  • Outpatient Clinics
  • Inpatient, Hospital Settings
  • Skilled Nursing Facilities
  • Home Health
  • Schools and Universities
  • Consultants to Corporations
  • Fitness Centers and Sports Facilities
  • Research Centers

Within these settings, Physical Therapists use their expertise in movement to address a wide range of conditions, including:

Arthritis, neck and back pain, balance training, headaches, wrist (carpal tunnel) pain, hand injuries, pediatric developmental delays, bone/joint fractures, osteoporosis, stroke, traumatic brain injuries, COPD, and many others.

Have you been helped by a Physical Therapist? Tell us how great your PT was in the comments below!

Tim Fraticelli, DPT Physical Therapist

Tim Fraticelli is a Physical Therapist, Certified Financial Planner™ and founder of PTProgress.com. He loves to teach PTs and OTs ways to save time and money in and out of the clinic, especially when it comes to documentation or continuing education. Follow him on YouTube for weekly videos on ways to improve your financial health.

2 thoughts on “What Does a Physical Therapist Do?”

  1. I recently stumbled across your site and am so grateful for it! I am in the final steps of applying to PT school and was advised to seek out information for this process. One of my essay topics asks “what do you perceive as the needs and/or challenges in this field of study?” and would love some feedback from professionals in the field with real experiences of the challenges. Thank you!

  2. Since my grandma has been suffering from knee pain for over a month now, I’ve decided to find a licensed physical therapist to check her condition. Good thing I stumbled upon your article and found out that skilled one can help me understand how to approach the situation. Besides, they can also help with prevention.


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