Physical Therapist (PT)

Physical therapists are health professionals who evaluate physical problems and injuries, then provide education and treatment to promote health and physical function. Physical therapists also develop programs that include exercise and stretching to increase fitness and prevent injury.

A physical therapist provides hands-on treatment to help return normal movement to joints and muscles. He or she gives instruction about exercises to help heal and strengthen the body. Treatment may include physical or mechanical means, such as mobilization and manipulation of joints, exercise, heat, or mild electrical current. Physical therapists also use devices such as prosthetics (artificial limbs), orthotics (braces and supports), and equipment to help a person in daily life.

Some physical therapists treat a wide range of ailments. Others specialize in areas such as pediatrics, geriatrics, orthopedics, sports physical therapy, neurology, cardiovascular, pulmonary, oncology, and women's health. Physical therapists work for hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies, rehabilitation facilities, fitness facilities, and schools.

Physical therapists earn a master's degree or entry-level doctorate in physical therapy from an accredited physical therapist educational program that includes a period of clinical work. All states require physical therapists to pass a licensure exam before they can practice.

Last Revised: March 7, 2013

Author: Healthwise Staff

Medical Review: Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Joan Rigg, PT, OCS - Physical Therapy

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

© 1995-2013 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.


The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.