Physical therapists treat a wide range of problems related to the musculoskeletal (tissues, joints, and bones), neuromuscular (brain and nervous system), and cardiovascular (heart and lungs) systems.
They work with a wide range of patients and in many different settings. Some examples are:
- Clinics: treating people with spinal and joint problems, or recovering from accidents.
- Hospitals: including intensive care (physical therapy can be vital to keep patients breathing after surgery).
- Schools: I work with children who have movement problems, coordination difficulties, and specific disabilities, such as cerebral palsy.
- Workplaces – Help staff avoid and recover from injuries and accidents.
- Elderly: They work with people who are recovering from bruises or falls, or who have Parkinson’s disease.
- People with learning difficulties: they work to achieve increased independence and help people reach their full potential.
- Women’s health: advice on postural exercise and concentration on prenatal and postnatal treatments.
- Sports and community centers: prevention and treatment of specific problems through concentration and back exercise classes.
Doctors and other health professionals often refer patients to a physical therapist. Increasingly, people are able to go directly to a physical therapist, without having visited another healthcare professional in the first place; and there are more and more physiotherapy services.
The patient may go to the physical therapist to treat, for example, a swelling, pain or stiffness in the arm. The physical therapist asks the patient to move the arm with their help and on their own, and can then evaluate the arm to detect if it has lost muscle mass from lack of use. He then decides the best treatment to meet the patient’s needs. In planning and administering treatment, you can work collaboratively with occupational therapists, doctors, nurses, and social workers.
Physical therapists can focus on one area of expertise. For example, some specialize in respiratory or burn care, acupuncture, the elderly, or people with learning disabilities.
An important part of your job is teaching specialized preventive measures to patients to prevent injuries and other health problems. For example, if a physical therapist focuses on respiratory problems, he has to educate patients about the need to quit smoking and the methods to achieve it.
They should always take a holistic approach to injury prevention, as there is no point in treating immediate symptoms if the patient does not make changes to their lifestyle that will benefit them in the future.
In this way, physiotherapists also promote strategies to treat obesity, for example, a problem that greatly hinders people’s movement.
Physical therapists can teach the elderly ways to avoid falls. A physical therapist can help organize regular outings for groups of the elderly, to prevent osteoporosis, for example.
Physical therapists also teach families and caregivers of patients support techniques at home, for example, they can teach them to climb stairs or use the bathtub. Physical therapists can help patients choose crutches and wheelchairs and teach them how to use them.
Although they visit patients one-on-one, group therapy can be helpful in teaching a specific group of patients how to avoid common problems, such as weakness in the knees, ankles, and back.
Physical therapists can visit patients in their own homes, or in hospitals, nursing homes, day centers, public health centers, family medical offices, and schools.