What does a physical therapist do?

Physical therapists diagnose and treat patients who have medical problems or injuries that limit their abilities to move or function in their daily lives. Physical therapists work with people who have experienced an injury or disease that has affected their movement.

A physical therapist will examine a patient then create a recovery plan. They often focus on treatments that reduce the need for surgery and prescriptive drugs. A physical therapist uses a combination of exercise, stretches, hands-on techniques and equipment to restore function or relieve pain.

People they work with: Physical therapy assistants, educators, social workers, nurses, doctors, surgeons, and patients of all ages, from infants to the elderly

Where they work: Hospitals, private practices, home health agencies, outpatient rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, schools, and medical clinics

Career outlook for a physical therapist

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of physical therapists in the U.S. is expected to grow much faster than average. This is due to the aging baby-boomer population who are staying active later in life and are more likely to deal with health conditions that can benefit from physical therapy. Secondly, there has been an increase in chronic conditions such as diabetes and obesity so physical therapists are needed to help these patients manage the effects of these conditions.

With additional training and experience, some physical therapists move into management roles with more responsibilities or start their own practices. Some therapists become professors while others earn specializations in areas such as pediatrics or sports medicine to increase career opportunities.

Physical therapist programs at Mayo Clinic

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