Physical therapy is a medical discipline that helps individuals to improve or regain physical abilities, to allow them to participate as fully as possible in activities of daily living. Job opportunities in physical therapy and related fields are abundant, and are expected to continue to grow at a faster than average rate over the next decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Physical Therapists (PTs) help individuals to improve their mobility. Patients are people with degenerative or congenital conditions that affect the muscular, skeletal or neurological systems. PTs perform a thorough assessment of the patient that measures muscular strength, flexibility, range of motion and coordination/balance. This information is used to create a treatment plan, which may employ exercise, physical agents such as heat, ice and ultrasound, aquatic therapy or other modalities. Requirements for licensure as a PT vary from state to state, but include, minimally, graduation from an accredited Masters or PhD program in physical therapy and successful completion of a professional board examination.
Physical Therapy Assistant
Physical Therapy Assistants (PTAs) are healthcare workers who assist PTs in carrying out treatment plans. They work under the supervision of a physical therapist and provide direct patient care. Typical PTA duties may include: assisting patients with exercises, teaching proper use of assistive devices such as crutches or canes, providing massage therapy, and administering ultrasound, heat or cold therapy. PTAs, unlike PTs, do not assess patients or contribute to the formulation of treatment plans. Physical Therapy Assistant training programs offer an Associates degree and take two years to complete. PTAs must also pass a comprehensive professional board exam as a condition of licensure.
Occupational Therapists (OTs) are medical professionals who often work closely with Physical Therapists to help patients be able to function as independently as possible. Occupational Therapists, unlike PTs, do not directly treat medical conditions. Rather, they help patients to improve their self-help skills. For example, while a PT may prescribe exercises to improve hand strength, an OT would teach the patient alternative ways to feed him or herself or create or obtain an adaptive device for feeding. Requirements for OTs includes completion of a Masters or PhD level training program and successful completion of a comprehensive examination.
Physical and Occupational Therapist Aides
Physical and Occupational Therapy Aides assist PTs, OTs and PTAs with basic tasks in the health care setting. There are no licensing requirements for these positions and training is provided on the job. Aides provide very minimal direct patient care, which is limited to tasks such as transporting or lifting patients. Typical duties of aides include: cleaning and maintaining equipment, preparing patient areas, walking with patients, securing patients onto therapeutic equipment and various clerical duties.
Doctors of Chiropractic (DCs), or chiropractors, are medical professionals who treat patients with conditions that affect the muscular and skeletal systems. DCs stress the proper alignment of the spine as a means of relieving muscular and nervous system imbalances that can cause pain or other physical problems. The majority of chiropractic treatments involve the manual manipulation of the spine. Chiropractic training programs are four or more years in length, and include both a clinical and academic component.
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