Amie's husband, Tom, had a little chat last summer with a golf buddy whose back was really bothering him.
DAVE: Amie's a physical therapist, right?
TOM: Yeah. She's been practicing for more than 10 years now.
DAVE: So she took classes on the weekends? Took an exam online? My back is killing me. I'll bet she gives a great massage.
Multitalented: Physical therapists can help patients prevent or manage a health condition using a variety of treatment techniques
to restore function, reduce pain and prevent disability. (John Block/Getty Images)
Ouch! The truth is that many people do not know that physical therapy is a health profession—not a hobby. The reality is that
student physical therapists go through three or more years of postgraduate education and training, and most are now awarded
What is a physical therapist?
The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) recognized the need for educating the public about physical therapy and launched
a public relations and marketing campaign called "Move Forward: Physical Therapy Brings Motion to Life." A major goal of this
outreach was to let people know what physical therapists do and how they can help people get back in motion and improve the
quality of their lives. Its website (
http://www.moveforwardpt.com/) shares these key points.
- All physical therapists are required to receive a graduate degree—either a master's or a doctorate. There are 210 academic
institutions with professional physical therapist programs, and more than 90 percent offer the DPT degree. (More than 75 percent
of all 2008 physical therapy graduates were awarded a DPT degree.)
- Physical therapists take a national licensure examination. State licensure is also required in each state where a physical
- Physical therapists apply research and proven techniques to help improve or restore mobility.
- Physical therapists provide care for people in a variety of settings including hospitals, private practices, outpatient clinics,
home health agencies, schools, sports and fitness facilities, work settings and nursing homes.
- Physical therapists diagnose and treat people of all ages including newborns, children and the elderly. They may consult and
practice with other health professionals.
- Physical therapists can help patients prevent or manage a health condition using a variety of treatment techniques to restore
function, reduce pain and prevent disability.
The evolution of physical therapy
Physical therapy has advanced from "restoration aides" that helped wounded soldiers returning from World War I to a nursing
specialty to a clinical doctorate degree program. Even doctoral residencies and fellowships are now an option.
The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties recognizes eight specialties: pediatrics, geriatrics, women's health, cardiovascular
and pulmonary, clinical electrophysiology, neurologic, sports and orthopedics. Certified specialists are expected to build
on their education and clinical skills in their particular field and are required to be recertified every 10 years.
Education and training
Professional physical therapy education programs have prerequisites similar to those of veterinary medical schools. Required
courses include biology, zoology, anatomy, physiology, organic chemistry, biochemistry, physics, calculus and statistics.
Students accepted into a physical therapy program study anatomy, neuroscience, kinesiology, biomechanics, pathology, radiology/imaging
and pharmacology. Clinically based courses such as medical screening, diagnostics and outcomes measurement are also part of
Physical therapy students learn how to clinically evaluate patients. They are trained to perform joint mobilization and manipulations,
to prescribe functionally based therapeutic exercise and to facilitate healing and recovery through real-world and simulated
activities. They learn to use physical modalities such as ultrasonography, lasers, electrotherapy and hydrotherapy. Extensive
supervised clinical experience is also provided—an essential part of a physical therapist's education.