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About Physical Therapy

What is physical therapy? Quite simply, it’s the treatment of injury, pain or illness by physical means. The goal is to improve and rehabilitate the body’s physical function.

Patients commonly see physical therapists to help them cope with the aftereffects of surgery or disease, improving their ability to move freely and reducing physical pain and limitations. Physical therapists, or PTs, see patients with a vast variety of life-affecting conditions and injuries, from a broken leg, to the aftermath of a stroke or heart surgery, to chronic disabilities, like Parkinson’s or arthritis.

PTs operate by first assessing the current physical limitations of their patient, normally by watching how they move and walk. They will then undertake a variety of hands-on therapies and modalities to help the patient improve motor skills, strength, coordination, endurance, and general range of motion.

Common PT treatments include exercise, stretching, weight training and massage, as well as the application of heat, cold, ultrasound and electrical stimulation. Patients are normally given “homework,” or exercises to do at home between appointments.

Physical therapy works by helping the patient selectively strengthen parts of the body and keep joints mobile, without re-injuring the body or exacerbating pain. For example, Achilles tendinosis will heal better after a series of calf raises.


Many physical therapists specialize in rehabilitating people with specific injuries or illnesses. The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties offers the following specializations:

  • • Cardiovascular and pulmonary: working with patients with heart and lung issues
  • • Clinical electrophysiology: specializing in the use of electrical application in PT
  • • Geriatrics: working with older patients
  • • Neurology: working with patients with neurological conditions, like multiple sclerosis
  • • Orthopaedics: advanced study of the body’s skeletal and muscular system
  • • Pediatrics: working with children
  • • Sports: rehabilitating patients with sports-related injuries
  • • Women’s Health: rehabilitating women patients with gender-linked issues like pelvic pain and post-partum injury

Related specialties

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