What Is Physical Therapy?


The main goals of physical therapy (PT) are to provide pain management, improve mobility, maximize functionality, implement injury recovery, and prevent future damage. A physical therapist evaluates the person and condition to treat illnesses and injuries related to the musculoskeletal (bones and muscles), neurological (brain), cardiopulmonary (heart and lungs) and integumentary (skin) systems.

Physical therapy, also referred to as physiotherapy, is often used as a standard treatment for chronic pain or pain related to an injury. However, many health conditions respond well to physical therapy, including back pain, headaches, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), etc.

Why use physical therapy?

Physical therapy may be beneficial if pain prevents the completion of daily activities, such as maneuvering stairs, lifting or carrying objects, or tasks required for daily life, work, hobbies, etc. It can improve or restore functionality through exercises to strengthen the muscles, stretches to increase flexibility, manual therapy to boost range of motion, activity modifications, or other treatment plans. At-home exercise instructions can also be developed.

In addition, a physical therapist may also help an individual acquire and learn to properly use assistive devices, such as wheelchairs, artificial limbs, canes, walkers, etc. A medical professional can help determine if physical therapy is a good treatment option.

What to expect

Depending on the type of physical therapy needed, the structure of an appointment may vary. A typical visit with a physical therapist includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Evaluating a medical history, including detailed symptoms (first appointment)
  • Performing a physical evaluation, including movement, performance, flexibility, and muscle or joint motion (at first appointment and various times to determine effectiveness of therapy)
  • Determining diagnosis and prognosis, which may include completing X-rays
  • Developing a plan for future care, including short-term and long-term goals
  • Implementing physical therapy treatment
  • Recommending methods of self-management, such as home-based exercises

Types of physical therapy

Physical therapy treatment plans vary individually. There are several types of treatments that physical therapists can offer based on an individual’s needs and health condition. These treatments include, but are not limited to, the following:

Additional sources: Physiopedia and Medical News Today