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Physical therapists are health professionals who evaluate physical problems and injuries, then provide education and treatment to promote health and physical function. Physical therapists also develop programs that include exercise and stretching to increase fitness and prevent injury.
A physical therapist provides hands-on treatment to help return normal movement to joints and muscles. He or she gives instruction about exercises to help heal and strengthen the body. Treatment may include physical or mechanical means, such as mobilization and manipulation of joints, exercise, heat, or mild electrical current. Physical therapists also use devices such as prosthetics (artificial limbs), orthotics (braces and supports), and equipment to help a person in daily life.
Some physical therapists treat a wide range of ailments. Others specialize in areas such as pediatrics, geriatrics, orthopedics, sports physical therapy, neurology, cardiovascular, pulmonary, oncology, and women's health. Physical therapists work for hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies, rehabilitation facilities, fitness facilities, and schools.
Physical therapists earn a master's degree or entry-level doctorate in physical therapy from an accredited physical therapist educational program that includes a period of clinical work. All states require physical therapists to pass a licensure examination before they can practice.
Current as of: February 19, 2016
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Joan Rigg, PT, OCS - Physical Therapy
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