What is Physical Therapy (PT)?

Physical therapy (PT), also called physiotherapy, helps to improve or restore a person’s ability to move and function in daily life.

It may be recommended for the treatment of a variety of medical conditions, as part of a fitness program or serve as an alternative to surgery.

Physical therapy may be provided in a variety of settings depending on the needs of the patient, including hospitals, outpatient clinics, home health agencies, schools, sports and fitness facilities, work settings, and nursing homes.

Physical Therapists

Physical therapy is provided by a physical therapist (PT). All physical therapists are required to receive a graduate degree, either a master's degree or a clinical doctorate, from an accredited physical therapist program before taking the national licensure examination that allows them to practice. State licensure is required in each state in which a physical therapist practices.

The following are physical therapy specialties, or areas of focus:

Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation

Physical therapists work with other professionals to support individuals with cardiopulmonary disorders or those who have had cardiac or pulmonary surgery with the goal of increasing endurance and functional independence


Neurological physical therapy is a field focused on working with individuals who have a neurological disorder or disease. These include Alzheimer's disease, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT), ALS, brain injury, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injury, and stroke. Common impairments associated with neurologic conditions include impairments of vision, balance, ambulation, activities of daily living, movement, muscle strength and loss of functional independence. Physiotherapy can address many of these impairments and aid in restoring and maintaining function, slowing disease progression, and improving quality of life.


Orthopedic physical therapists diagnose, manage, and treat disorders and injuries of the musculoskeletal system including rehabilitation after orthopedic surgery. This specialty of physical therapy is most often found in the out-patient clinical setting. Orthopedic therapists are trained in the treatment of post-operative orthopedic procedures, fractures, acute sports injuries, arthritis, sprains, strains, back and neck pain, spinal conditions, and amputations. Treatment approaches included joint and spine mobilization/manipulation, dry needling, therapeutic exercise, neuromuscular reeducation, hot/cold packs, and electrical muscle stimulation.


Geriatric physical therapy covers a wide area of issues concerning people as they go through normal adult aging but is usually focused on the older adult. There are many conditions that affect many people as they grow older and include but are not limited to the following: arthritis, osteoporosis, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, hip and joint replacement, balance disorders, incontinence, etc. Geriatric physical therapists specialize in treating older adults.

Sports and Fitness

Physical therapists can be involved in the care of recreational and professional. This area of practice includes athletic injury management, including acute care, treatment and rehabilitation, prevention, and education. Physical therapists are also active in sports medicine programs.


Pediatric physical therapy specializes in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of infants, children, and adolescents with a variety of congenital, developmental, neuromuscular, skeletal, or acquired disorders/diseases, such as developmental delays, cerebral palsy, and spina bifida. Treatments focus on improving gross and fine motor skills, balance and coordination, strength and endurance as well as cognitive and sensory processing/integration.

Skin and Wound Care

This is the treatment of of conditions involving the skin, such as wounds and burns. Physical therapists utilize surgical instruments, mechanical lavage, dressings and topical agents to clean wounds and promote tissue healing. Other approaches include exercise, edema control, splinting, and compression garments.

© Vivacare 2022. All rights reserved
Last updated: 1/8/2019