What does a Physical Therapist do?

Physical therapists evaluate, plan and administer physical therapy programs to restore function, relieve pain and prevent disability following disease, injury or loss of a body part. Physical therapist assistants help administer tests and treatment programs under the direction of physical therapists. Physical therapy aides perform routine tasks to assist the physical therapy team.

What might a Physical Therapist do in a workday?

Physical therapists:

  • develop individualized physical therapy programs for patients based on referrals from physicians, a review of medical records, examination and evaluation of the patient.
  • administer therapeutic exercises to improve or maintain muscle function.
  • instruct and motivate patients.
  • administer treatments involving light, heat, water and electricity.
  • evaluate the effect and duration of interventions and make any needed adjustments.
  • perform soft tissue mobilization and joint mobilization.
  • administer traction to relieve neck and back pain.
  • instruct patients and families in physical therapy procedures to be used at home.
  • train patients to use prosthetic and orthotic devices and recommend modifications.
  • interact and practice in collaboration with a variety of professionals, including physicians, social workers, nurses, psychologists and other therapists.
  • work with employers to prevent on-the-job injury and to facilitate the return to work of injured employees.
  • facilitate functional recovery in patients after suffering a stroke.
  • facilitate motor development in children in the school system.
  • help heart patients regain full quality of life.

Developing a Career as a Physical Therapist

Physical therapists may specialize in sports physical therapy, orthopedics, pediatrics, clinical electrophysiological testing, geriatrics, hand rehabilitation, oncology, women’s health, neurology and cardiopulmonary therapy. Many also consult and/or engage in research, education, administration and community health.

Physical therapists work with physicians, nurses, social workers, speech therapists, occupational therapists and other specialists. Some are in private practice, while others work in hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centers, physicians’ offices, schools for the handicapped, nursing homes, colleges and universities, research labs, and government agencies.

How much salary do Physical Therapists make?

Annual Mean Wage
$90,360 (physical therapists)
$54,990 (physical therapy assistants)
$24,950 (minimum wage part-time aides/tech)

How do I become a Physical Therapist?

Students interested in becoming physical therapists should take challenging high school courses in science, math and English.

To be a licensed physical therapist, a student must have a Bachelor of Science Degree with associated prerequisites or either a master’s or doctoral degree from an accredited school. Licensed physical therapist assistants must graduate from an approved two-year college program for physical therapy assistants and pass an examination. Physical therapist aides require a high school diploma and receive on-the-job training from their employers.

Where else can I learn about becoming an Physical Therapist?

State License Requirements for Physical Therapists and Physical Therapy Assistants

A license is required to practice as a physical therapist or physical therapy assistant in the state of Virginia. For more information on licensure, applications and forms, visit www.dhp.virginia.gov/physicaltherapy.

Virginia Board of Physical Therapy
Perimeter Center
9960 Mayland Drive
Suite 300
Henrico, VA 23233

Phone: (804) 367-4674
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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