What is Physical Therapy?



  • Diagnose and manage movement dysfunction and enhance physical and functional abilities.

  • Restore, maintain, and promote not only optimal physical function but optimal well­ness and fitness and optimal quality of life as it relates to movement and health.

  • Prevent the onset, symptoms, and progression of impairments, functional limitations, and disabilities that may result from diseases, disorders, conditions, or injuries.

  • The terms "physical therapy" and "physiotherapy," and the terms "physical therapist" and "physiotherapist ," are synonymous.


As essential participants in the health care delivery system, physical therapists assume leadership roles in rehabilitation;  in prevention, health maintenance, and programs that promote health, wellness, and fitness; and in professional and community organiza­tions. Physical therapists also play important roles both in developing standards for physical therapist practice and in developing health care policy to ensure availability, accessibility, and optimal delivery of physical therapy services. Physical therapy is cov­ered by federal, state, and private insurance plans. The positive impact of physical ther apists' services on health-related quality of life is well accepted.


As clinicians, physical therapists engage in an examination process that includes taking the patient/client history, conducting a systems review, and performing tests and mea­sures to identify potential and existing problems.  To establish diagnoses, prognoses, and plans of care, physical therapists perform evaluations, synthesizing the examination data and determining whether the problems to be addressed are within the scope of physical therapist practice.  Based on their judgments about diagnoses and prognoses and based on patient/client goals, physical therapists provide interventions (the inter­ actions and procedures used in managing and instructing patients/clients), conduct re-examinations, modify interventions as necessary to achieve anticipated goals and expected outcomes, and develop and implement discharge plans.


The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), the national membership organi­zation representing and promoting the profession of physical therapy, believes it is crit­ically important for those outside the profession to understand the role of physical therapists in the health care delivery system and the unique services that physical therapists provide. APTA is committed to informing consumers, other health care profes sionals, federal and state governments , and third-party payers about the benefits of physical therapy -- and, more specifically, about the relationship between health status and the services that are provided by physical therapists. APTA actively supports out­comes research and strongly endorses all efforts to develop appropriate systems to measure the results of patient/client management that is provided by physical therapists.


The patient/client management elements of examination, evaluation, diagnosis, and prognosis should be represented and reimbursed as physical therapy only when they are performed by a physical therapist. The patient/client management element of intervention should be represented and reimbursed as physical therapy only when per­formed by a physical therapist or by a physical therapist assistant performing selected interventions under the direction and supervision of a physical therapist in accordance with APTA positions, policies,standards, codes, and guidelines.


Physical therapists are the only professionals who provide physical therapy interventions. Physical therapist assistants are the only individuals who provide selected physical ther­apy interventions under the direction and supervision of the physical therapist.  APTA rec­ommends that federal and state government agencies and other third-party payers require physical therapy to be provided only by physical therapists or under the direction and supervision of physical therapists.


Adapted from APTA

Physical therapy is a dynamic profession with an established theoretical and scientific base and widespread clinical applications in the restoration, maintenance and promotion of optimal physical function. For more than 750,000 people everyday in the United States, physical therapists: