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Physical therapy is a health care profession focused on prevention and management of movement disorders arising from conditions and diseases occurring throughout the lifespan. Physical therapy can only be performed by either a qualified physical therapist or physical therapist assistant (PTA) under the direction of a physical therapist. Despite this, various alternative health professions continue to employ the use of some physical therapeutic modalities in practice. Physical therapy is not defined by procedures; instead, the essence of physical therapy is the knowledge and skills the physical therapist employs in managing a patient's condition. Individualized management involves the interaction between patient/client, families, caregivers, and healthcare team in a process of diagnosis and developing an intervention strategy using knowledge and skills unique to physical therapists.
Physical therapy may include any of the following techniques during treatment: spinal and extremity manipulation; therapeutic exercise; electrotherapeutic and mechanical agents; functional training; provision of aids and appliances; patient education and counseling; documentation and coordination, and communication. Intervention may also be aimed at prevention of impairments, functional limitations, disability and injury including the promotion and maintenance of health, quality of life, and fitness in all ages and populations.
Physical therapists (PTs) are health care professionals who evaluate and manage health conditions for people of all ages. Typically, individuals consult a PT for the management of medical problems or other health-related conditions that cause pain, limit ability to move, or limit the performance of functional activities. PTs also help prevent health conditions through prevention, restoration of function and through fitness and wellness programs that achieve healthy and active lifestyles. PTs evaluate individuals, diagnose conditions, and develop management plans using treatment techniques that promote the ability to move, reduce pain, restore function, and prevent disability. They provide care in hospitals, clinics, schools, sports facilities, and more.
A physical therapist will initially conduct a subjective examination (interview) of a patient's medical history, and then provide objective assessment in the form of a physical examination. The subjective examination is guided by the presenting symptoms and complaint, and the objective assessment is in turn guided by the history. This semi-structured process is used to rule out serious pathology, establish functional limitations, establish the diagnosis, guide therapy, and establish a baseline for monitoring progress. The objective exam will then use certain quantifiable measurements to both guide diagnosis and monitor progress. The particular focus of a regimen will depend on the system and area being managed. Whereas a musculoskeletal exam might assess joint range of motion, muscle power, and posture among other metrics, a cardiopulmonary assessment might involve lung auscultation and exercise physiology testing. In some countries a physical therapist may order diagnostic imaging tests such as x-rays and MRIs to obtain more information about a patient's presenting condition and determine a treatment plan, including referral to other practitioners. Physical therapists may also perform sonography, electromyography and nerve conduction testing to aid in the diagnostic process.