Physical Therapy

What is Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy is the practice of rehabilitation exercises typically used after an injury, surgery, or for other chronic or long-term pain problems. The goal of physical therapy is to help patients regain strength, mobility and fitness with whatever physical ailment or weakness they are suffering from. Treatment from a physical therapist (often called a PT) may also be considered as a possible alternative to surgery or pain medication.

Origins in History
Physical therapy is said to date as far back as 460 B.C. where some of the treatments physical therapists use today were practiced by Hippocrates. In the 18th century, orthopedics and systematic joint exercise were developed to help treat gout. Schools of physiotherapy began to appear in the early 1900’s, further developing various techniques of massage, manipulation and exercise.


Varieties of physical therapy vary based upon what is required by the injury incurred. Some of the treatments used by physical therapist include:

  • Exercises
  • Manual therapy
  • Massage
  • Mobilization
  • Manipulation
  • Cold and/or heat
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Ultrasound therapy
  • Electrical Stimulation
  • Other specialized treatments

What is care like?

Health Benefits
The health benefits of physical therapy are dependent on the person and what they are looking to get out of their physical therapy sessions. Some common problems that people visit physical therapists for are:

  • arthritis
  • back pain
  • COPD
  • gout
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • knee pain
  • osteoporosis
  • spinal stenosis
  • overuse injuries
  • muscle weakness
  • shoulder pain
  • stroke
  • sprains, strains, fractures
  • sports injuries
  • tendon or ligament problems

Actions & Experiences During a Session
In most cases you don’t need a referral to see a physical therapist, but in most cases your primary care physician will be most likely recommend this treatment. For insurance purposes, they may even write a prescription for PT visits. Your primary care physician will also be able to recommend the best type of physical therapist suited to your specific needs. Some physical therapists are certified to work in specialized areas such as orthopedics, geriatrics, neurology, etc.

Your PT will do a thorough examination of your problem area(s) and test your mobility and flexibility, if applicable. They will also go over your full medical history and take inventory on any additional medical problems you may have. Depending on what you need to work on, your PT will help to reduce pain or swelling and then help you work on your flexibility, strength, coordination or endurance. Physical therapy almost always includes exercise and some sort of exercise program or plan. Your PT will most likely ask you to do prescribed exercises at home on a regular basis. Your physical therapist should develop a plan with you and set goals for treatment in order to mark your rehabilitation progress. If you are not seeing improvement within a reasonable amount of time or if you are feeling worse, talk to your PT.

Duration of Care
The duration of rehabilitation will depend on the recommendations of your primary care physician or surgeon and your physical therapist. Rehabilitation time depends greatly on the severity of your injury or the chronicity of pain you experience. Your duration of care also depends on your willingness to participate in your rehabilitation by regularly doing prescribed exercises. Don’t shirk the homework if you want to see results!

Resources & References

MedlinePlus: Rehabilitation

Move Forward

American Physical Therapy Association

WebMD: Physical Therapy

Physical Therapy Connect

What next?

If it’s time for you to find a physical therapist, search Find Wellness to find a certified PT in your area. When looking for a physical therapist, make sure they are certified. Physical therapists must have a license in the state in which they practice. PT’s earn a master’s degree or an entry-level doctorate in physical therapy.