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Learn Physical Therapy Basics

Educate Yourself

Physical therapy is an integral part of healthcare services in the twenty-first century. This dynamic profession is dedicated to identifying the highest functional potential of the individual client and striving to reach that goal through a variety of means.


Physical Therapy FAQs

What do physical therapists actually do?

Physical Therapists (PTs) are movement experts. When a PT sees a patient/client for the first time, they evaluate that individual and develop a plan of care. The goal is to improve quality of life by promoting the patient’s ability to move, reduce pain, restore function, and prevent disability. PTs will also work with individuals to develop fitness- and wellness-oriented programs for healthier and more active lifestyles. Hands-on care, patient education, prescribed movement,  and functional training are the cornerstones of physical therapy treatment. 

What do physical therapist assistants do?

Physical therapist assistants (PTAs) are an important part of the physical therapy team.  PTAs are directed and supervised by a physical therapist.

What role should you play in your care?

Patients/clients should be encouraged to set goals and participate in your care.

Do you need a license to provide physical therapy?

A physical therapist or physical therapist needs to be legally authorized in a jurisdiction to provide physical therapy for a patient/client either by licensure (certificate in some states for PTAs) or a compact privilege.

How do I find a licensed practitioner?

Physical therapy is only provided by a licensed PT or a PTA under the supervision of a physical therapist. You can search for a PT or PTA and verify that a PT/PTA is licensed. You can also verify an individual has  Compact Privilege.

Are there areas of specialization?

There are ten specialty areas in which PTs may choose to specialize:

  • Cardiovascular & Pulmonary
  • Clinical Electrophysiology
  • Geriatrics
  • Neurology
  • Oncology
  • Orthopaedics
  • Pediatrics
  • Sports
  • Women's Health
  • Wound Management

Where do PTs and PTAs practice?

 To meet the needs of so many different types of people, PTs practice in a variety of settings including outpatient clinics, fitness centers, hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, schools, patient homes, sports teams, and work settings. You may also find PTs out in the community at health fairs or community centers performing general fitness assessments or screening for fall and/or injury risk. Additionally, PTs and PTAs may teach at universities or do research.

What does the title “Physical Therapist” or “PT” after someone’s name mean?
An individual who represents themselves as having obtained the title of PT has met the following criteria:

Who do I contact for information about physical therapy state regulatory requirements?
You need to contact the licensing authority in the state where you are interested in obtaining information. You can obtain contact information for any of the fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Basic information on state regulatory requirements can be found in the FSBPT’s licensure reference guide.

  • Graduated from an accredited physical therapist education program, which is a post-baccalaureate degree.
  • Passed the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE®) for physical therapists. This exam is based on a comprehensive practice analysis conducted to determine critical knowledge, skills, and abilities of physical therapists.
  • Legally authorized to practice in the state or jurisdiction where they work.
What does the title “Physical Therapist Assistant” or “PTA” after someone’s name mean?
  • Graduated from an accredited physical therapist assistant education program, which is generally a two-year, post-high school degree.
  • Passed the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE®) for physical therapist assistants. This exam is based on a comprehensive practice analysis conducted to determine the critical knowledge, skills, and abilities of physical therapist assistants.
  • In all jurisdictions, a physical therapist assistant must be legally authorized to work in that state or jurisdiction.