Physical therapy involves the interaction between physical therapist, patients/clients, other health care professionals, families, care givers, and communities in a process where movement potential is assessed and diagnosed and goals are agreed upon. Physical therapy is performed by a physical therapist (PT) or physiotherapist (physio), and sometimes services are provided by a physical therapist assistant (PTA) acting under their direction. In some cases, physical rehabilitation technicians may provide physiotherapy services. PTs are healthcare professionals who diagnose and treat individuals of all ages, from newborns to the very oldest, who have medical problems or other health-related conditions, illnesses, or injuries that limit their abilities to move and perform functional activities as well as they would like in their daily lives.
PTs use an individual's history and physical examination to arrive at a diagnosis and establish a management plan and, when necessary, incorporate the results of laboratory and imaging studies. Electrodiagnostic testing (e.g., electromyograms and nerve conduction velocity testing) may also be of assistance. PT management commonly includes prescription of or assistance with specific exercises, manual therapy, education, manipulation and other interventions. In addition, PTs work with individuals to prevent the loss of mobility before it occurs by developing fitness and wellness-oriented programs for healthier and more active lifestyles, providing services to individuals and populations to develop, maintain and restore maximum movement and functional ability throughout the lifespan. This includes providing services in circumstances where movement and function are threatened by aging, injury, disease or environmental factors. Functional movement is central to what it means to be healthy.
Physical therapy has many specialties including sports, wound care, EMG, cardiopulmonary, geriatrics, neurologic, orthopaedic and pediatrics. PTs practice in many settings, such as outpatient clinics or offices, health and wellness clinics, inpatient rehabilitation facilities, skilled nursing facilities, extended care facilities, private homes, education and research centers, schools, hospices, industrial and this workplaces or other occupational environments, fitness centers and sports training facilities.
Physical therapists also practice in non-patient care roles such as health policy, health insurance, health care administration and as health care executives. Physical therapists are involved in the medical-legal field serving as experts, performing peer review and independent medical examinations.
Education qualifications vary greatly by country. The span of education ranges from some countries having little formal education to others having doctoral degrees and post doctoral residencies and fellowships.