A physical therapist begins the first session with a patient by going through a diagnostic procedure. A patient may be referred to a physical therapist after surgery, after an injury or as the result of disease. The physical difficulty that the therapist is to treat may simply be caused by aging or by unfortunate living or working conditions. In any case, a therapist will go through the patient’s history, do a careful and thorough examination and then recommend a course of therapy to the referring doctor or simply with the patient. Development of a treatment plan is important.

Physical therapists help people regain use of limbs that have been injured and have lost muscle tone and/or range of motion. A therapist may work with a patient to build up physical stamina, perhaps with someone who has been immobilized by a lengthy illness, has undergone recent severe weight loss, or who is suffering from a chronic and debilitating affliction such as COPD.

There are Many Physical Therapy Specialists

A professional in this field may also work with children who need help correcting a physical defect or who are deficient in gross motor skills. There are many specialties in this field, including pediatric physical therapy. Others include working with the elderly, with orthopedic injuries, neurological injuries or with cardiopulmonary patients – those who have had heart or lung surgery.

In many of these cases the prescribed therapy is a form of exercise, designed to treat the appropriate muscle group or overall cardiovascular endurance. Some exercises are performed by the patient, while some may involve physical manipulation by the therapist as well. Other forms of treatment may include the use of heat, of cold packs, electrical stimulation. The overall goal is to restore physical health and also to help imbue a sense of well being in a patient – or child – frustrated with functional inability.

Education and Training

Physical therapists go through extensive education to work in the field. A master’s degree from one of the accredited physical therapy schools is required, as is licensure. Only master’s degree and doctoral degree programs are accredited. There may be both federal and state exams involved in the licensing process, depending on the state.

An undergraduate background that includes coursework in biology, physics and chemistry is helpful. If physical therapy is a profession you are considering as a career change, you should discuss the details of possible credit transfer with your new school’s academic counselor. The requirements for completion of this degree include both scientific fundamentals and the anatomy, neurology, and therapeutic techniques that are integral to the profession. There are a required number of student clinical hours as part of the training.

There are about 175,000 physical therapy jobs in the U.S. presently. The profession is expected to grow much more rapidly than the overall average job growth over the next several years so job prospects should be excellent.

Author's Bio: 

Bob Hartzell writes on careers and education for several websites