On the Job
Physical therapists treat patients to relieve their pain and increase their strength and mobility.
It is becoming more common for people to undergo hip replacement surgery. As people live longer, joints and bones simply wear out. During a hip replacement, surgeons remove the worn out joint and "install" a new one. The parts are made of metal and plastic. In order to put in the new joint, muscles and ligaments are separated during the surgery. This leaves this area of the hip somewhat weak. However, if patients engage in physical therapy afterwards, they can become fully mobile again. They increase their strength and range of motion. Often, patients can perform activities, such as biking or even running, that they haven't done in years!Physical therapists care for patients with disabilities, injuries, or pain. Doctors refer patients for conditions such as lower back pain, arthritis, and broken bones. They also refer patients recovering from accidents, strokes, and heart disease. Physical therapists help patients decrease pain and improve strength. They also try to prevent permanent disabilities or stop conditions from worsening.
Physical therapists begin by reviewing the doctor's referral and examining the patient's medical history. Then they test the patient's posture, balance, strength, muscle function, and range of motion. When their evaluation is complete, therapists write a treatment plan. The plan includes the types of treatment to be used, the purpose, and the intended outcome. Assistants and aides sometimes help to carry out the treatment plan. They are supervised by the physical therapist in charge.
Physical therapists use a wide range of treatments. They make sure patients understand how the treatments work and answer questions. They exercise patients to improve flexibility and strength. They administer physical agents, such as hot and cold packs, to reduce pain. They use ultrasound and electrical stimulation to reduce pain and improve function. Sometimes therapists give deep tissue massage to their patients. Sometimes they put patients in traction devices. They may refer patients for prosthetic devices, which are artificial replacements for legs or arms. In addition, therapists teach patients to do exercises at home, and to use canes and crutches. They also teach families to help patients with exercises and other procedures at home.
Physical therapists check patients' progress and modify plans when necessary. They consult with other medical staff about patients' responses to treatment. In addition, therapists record everything they do in patients' charts. In some offices, they enter patient information into a computer. They may lead group activities and teach physical therapy students. Some physical therapists also perform research and educate the community on injury prevention and treatment.
The following list of occupational tasks is specific to this career.
- Create individualized treatment programs for patients. Programs help patients maintain, improve, and restore functions.
- Examine patients and record findings. Review findings to identify problems and determine a diagnosis.
- Evaluate treatment effects and modify treatment plans when necessary.
- Use massage and traction to relieve pain and improve function.
- Instruct patients and their families in treatment procedures to be continued at home.
- Consult with other medical staff to obtain information or to discuss treatment plans. Refer to others when necessary.
- Review doctors' referrals and examine patients' medical histories.
- Record treatment and progress in patients' charts. May enter information into computer.
- Receive patient's consent to treatment.
- Test and measure patients' strength, posture, balance, muscle function, and range of motion. Identify problems and a diagnosis.
- Release patient from therapy when goals have been reached. Provide follow-up care or referrals.
- Identify and document goals, expected progress, and plans for reevaluation.
- Describe treatments to patients, including risks and benefits.
- Supervise physical therapist assistants and aides in support tasks.
- Treat with physical agents, such as hot and cold packs, electrical stimulation, and ultrasound.
- Teach physical therapy students and other medical staff.
- Fit and adjust prosthetic and orthotic devices for patient. Recommend changes to orthotist.
- Educate others about physical therapy, physical therapists, injury prevention, and ways to stay healthy.
- Refer patients to resources and services in the community.
- Research physical therapy methods.
People in this career perform the following list of tasks, but the tasks are common to many occupations.
- Assist and care for others.
- Make decisions and solve problems.
- Document and record information.
- Get information needed to do the job.
- Establish and maintain relationships.
- Communicate with supervisors, peers, or subordinates.
- Update and use job-related knowledge.
- Perform activities that use the whole body.
- Identify objects, actions, and events.
- Organize, plan, and prioritize work.
- Work with the public.
- Evaluate information against standards.
- Handle and move objects.
- Monitor events, materials, and surroundings.
- Develop goals and strategies.
- Judge the value of objects, services, or people.
- Analyze data or information.
- Explain the meaning of information to others.
- Teach others.
- Coordinate the work and activities of others.
In a typical work setting, people in this career:
- Have a high level of social contact. They work closely with patients and medical staff.
- Are responsible for the health and safety of patients.
- May on occasion deal with people who are unpleasant or angry due to their illnesses or injuries.
- Have moderate responsibility for patient outcomes. Patients are ultimately responsible for following therapists' plans.
- Communicate with patients and coworkers daily by telephone or in person.
- Write letters and memos on a weekly basis.
- Work in a group or as part of a team.
- Always work indoors.
- Work very near patients. They often work within inches of other people.
- Are exposed to diseases and infections on a daily basis.
- Often wear safety gear, such as gloves, when interacting with patients.
- Must be sure that their work is accurate. Errors could seriously endanger patients' health.
- Sometimes repeat the same physical activities, such as lifting patients or helping them move.
- Make decisions on a daily basis that strongly impact patients. They rarely consult with other physical therapists before making decisions.
- Are usually able to set tasks and goals without consulting with other physical therapists.
- Are moderately competitive. They may compete with other physical therapists, especially if they are self-employed.
- Must meet strict deadlines on a weekly basis. Their schedules are largely dictated by patient appointments.
- Generally have a set schedule each week.
- May work part time or full time. Most work 40 hours a week.
- May work some evenings and weekends.
Physical Work Conditions
In a typical work setting, people in this career:
- Stand for long periods of time.
- Walk with patients, or walk to and from therapy equipment.
- Speak clearly so listeners can understand.
- Understand the speech of another person.
- See details of objects that are less than a few feet away.
- Hold the arm and hand in one position or hold the hand steady while moving the arm.
- Use fingers to grasp, move, or assemble objects.
- Move two or more limbs together (for example, two arms, two legs, or one leg and one arm) while remaining in place.
- Bend, stretch, twist, or reach out.
- Use stomach and lower back muscles to support the body for long periods without getting tired.
- See details of objects that are more than a few feet away.
- Use muscles to lift, push, pull, or carry heavy objects.
- Use one or two hands to grasp, move, or assemble very small objects.
- Coordinate movement of several parts of the body, such as arms and legs, while the body is moving.
- Be physically active for long periods without getting tired or out of breath.
- Use muscles for extended periods without getting tired.
- Make fast, repeated movements of fingers, hands, and wrists.
- Make quick, precise adjustments to machine controls.
- Determine the distance between objects.
- Hear sounds and recognize the difference between them.
- Move arms and legs quickly.
- Focus on one source of sound and ignore others.
- Adjust body movements or equipment controls to keep pace with speed changes of moving objects.
- Keep or regain the body's balance or stay upright when in an unstable position.
- React quickly using hands, fingers, or feet.
- See differences between colors, shades, and brightness.
People in this career frequently:
It is important for people in this career to be able to:
It is not as important, but still necessary, for people in this career to be able to:
Source: Minnesota Department of Education.