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What Is a Physical Therapist?
Physical therapists are good people to know. They're educated in understanding the interaction of all your body parts. Their hands-on approach begins with examination, diagnosis, and treatment of the immediate problem. Then they teach you how to take care of yourself by showing you how to perform exercises and how to use your body properly to gain strength and mobility and prevent recurring injury. You'll find them advising on proper posture and body motion in the work place, treating injuries, consulting on fitness, and administering physical therapy in the home. Physical therapists provide help for every part of the body to everyone from infants to the elderly - more than 1 million people every day.
The Essence of Physical Therapy
Today's physical therapists practice in a wide variety of settings, with patients from all age groups. Many people are familiar with physical therapists' work helping patients with orthopedic problems, such as low back pain or knee surgeries, to reduce pain and regain function. Physical therapists also assist patients recovering from a stroke in learning to use their limbs and walk again. In today's health care system, physical therapists are the experts in the examination and treatment of musculoskeletal and neuromuscular problems that affect peoples' abilities to move and function in their daily lives.
Movement and Function
The ability to maintain an upright posture and to move your arms and legs to perform all sorts of tasks and activities is an important component of your health. Most of us can learn to live with the various medical conditions that we may develop, but only if we are able to continue at our jobs, take care of our families, and enjoy important occasions with family and friends. All of these activities require the ability to move without difficulty or pain. This can be hindered due to cardiac and pulmonary problems that interfere with the body's ability to use oxygen. Because people of all ages need to move and function, physical therapists work with patients of all ages, in nursing homes, in outpatient clinics, in the home, in schools, and on the job.
A large part of a physical therapist's program is to prevent injury in the workplace and reduce the risk of workers overusing certain muscles or developing low back pain. They also provide services to athletes to screen for potential problems and institute preventive exercise programs.
Education and Licensure
Because physical therapists are required to address a vast array of problems that can affect movement, function, and health, all physical therapists must earn a college degree in this specific field of study. The majority of physical therapist education programs result in a master's degree, and a few schools offer a clinical doctorate in physical therapy. All physical therapists also are required to take a national examination and be licensed by the state in which they practice.
The cornerstones of physical therapy are therapeutic exercise and functional training. In addition to "hands-on" care, physical therapists also educate patients to care for themselves and perform certain exercises on their own. Physical therapists may also "mobilize" or "manipulate" a joint (that is, perform certain types of movements at the end of your range of motion) or massage a muscle to promote proper movement and function. Physical therapy can only be provided by qualified physical therapists.
Most forms of physical therapy treatment are covered by your insurance, but the coverage will vary with each plan.
Whatever brings you to a physical therapist, professional care to restore your movement and promote proper function at the highest level possible is available. Just ask your physician.
When You Need a Physical Therapist
The following list contains some of the most common reasons to see a physical therapist:
Low back pain; Neck pain; Shoulder, arm, wrist, or hand problems; Carpal tunnel syndrome; Hip, Knee, ankle, or foot problems; Sprains and muscle strains; Arthritis; Rehabilitation after a serious injury or surgery; Stroke rehabilitation; Problems with balance; Hip fractures, hip or knee replacement.
 

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