What Is a Physical Therapist, and What Does a Physical Therapist Do?

When it comes to relieving pain and improving your health, you have many choices – including physical therapy. So, what is a physical therapist, and what can you expect when you begin working with one? Read on for answers to these and other questions you may have about physical therapy.

What Is a Physical Therapist?
If you haven’t previously experienced physical therapy before, you may be wondering, “What is a physical therapist?” As the name implies, a physical therapist is a highly educated healthcare professional who is an expert in body mechanics. With an extensive background in anatomy, physiology, cardiopulmonary function and other related subjects, a physical therapist is specially trained to diagnose and treat disorders of the musculoskeletal system.

If you have an injury, pain, discomfort or restricted movement in any part of your body, a physical therapist can provide relief and help you regain mobility. Your physical therapist can also be your partner in helping you to attain optimal fitness and improve your overall wellness. Physical therapists do not use drugs or surgery in their treatments; instead, they typically incorporate hands-on manual therapy and exercises to help your body heal itself, as you strengthen and condition your muscles and joints. With physical therapy, you can find relief from pain and experience a significant improvement in your overall health.

What Does a Physical Therapist Do?
Physical therapists provide a wide range of patient services, all geared toward restoring, improving and maintaining movement and activity. Their work helps patients resume normal motor function, minimize or eliminate pain, and enjoy a better quality of life.

Services provided by physical therapists include:

  • Evaluating and diagnosing the underlying causes of pain and reduced mobility
  • Providing rehabilitation services to patients after surgery, work or automobile accidents,
    or sports injuries
  • Designing customized physical therapy plans based on clinical findings and patient goals
  • Identifying risk factors to help prevent re-injury
  • Promoting overall health and fitness
  • Improving patient balance to reduce the risk of falling
  • Consulting on proper form and body movement to help patients avoid future injuries
  • Educating patients and the public on ways to attain better long-term health

Physical therapy is an evolving practice, with high standards for education and quality of care. Today’s professional physical therapists have a proven track record of successfully alleviating pain and helping injured people return to a higher quality of life.

What Does a Typical Physical Therapy Session Involve?
While most physical therapists use similar treatment techniques, their patient base and specific treatment methods may vary according to work environment and specialization. Physical therapists are employed in a variety of healthcare settings, including private clinics, hospitals and nursing homes. Some may work exclusively with athletes, while others may provide services within a health club or gym. A physical therapist may see patients of any age, from infants to the elderly. All physical therapists are trained to treat injuries, illnesses and other conditions that cause pain and inhibit an individual’s ability to move freely and participate in normal activities.

Regardless of the healthcare setting, a patient’s first physical therapy session will generally begin with a thorough examination, which will help the therapist determine the underlying cause and complexity of the patient’s condition, as well as the most appropriate approach to treatment. The physical therapist then develops an individualized plan of care to address the problem and restore full range of motion. Instead of drugs or invasive procedures, a physical therapist uses manual therapy as well as passive therapy – such as heat and cold or ultrasound – to help the body heal itself, alleviate pain and return normal movement to the affected area.

Whether you’re seeking a physical therapist for injury rehabilitation, pain relief or to achieve optimal fitness, improving your flexibility and strength will be an important part of your treatment plan. In addition to the manual and passive therapy conducted during your sessions, your physical therapist will also teach you exercises and stretches to perform at home to target specific areas. For example, by strengthening your core muscles, you can prevent back strain. Other exercises and ergonomic enhancements can help minimize stress on elbows and wrists. Likewise, strengthening your ankles and knees can help make them less susceptible to twisting and other injuries. Improving your balance and agility can improve your reaction time and help prevent falls. One final – and equally important – aspect of a physical therapist’s duties is to educate you on using proper form to avoid future injuries.

Can Physical Therapy Help You?

Assessing your current situation is the first step in determining whether physical therapy is right for you:

•Have you suffered an injury from sports, work or an auto accident?
•Are you considering surgery to repair a knee or hip injury?
•Have you recently had knee, hip or heart surgery?
•Are you experiencing intermittent or chronic pain, stiffness or limited range of motion?
•Do you have difficulty balancing when walking, running or climbing stairs?
•Are physical limitations preventing you from participating in activities you used to enjoy?
•Do you want to improve your fitness level?
•Are you perpetually tired and lacking in energy?
•Do you want to begin an exercise plan?
•Are you ready to change your life and improve your health?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, physical therapy can help you – whether you seek to improve your fitness, recover from an injury or find relief from pain. Remember, pain is always a sign that something is wrong. Ignoring it or waiting for it to go away can actually make the underlying condition worse. So, if you’re experiencing pain anywhere in your body, call your physician for a referral to a qualified physical therapist.

Professional Therapy Associates Is Your Partner in Good Health
Now that you have answers to your most pressing physical therapy questions – including “What is a physical therapist?” and “What does a physical therapist do?” – you may have come to the realization that physical therapy is your path to pain relief and better health. Why not find out for yourself? You can start by asking your doctor for a prescription for physical therapy.

If you’re seeking a physical therapist in Flathead Valley, Montana, you’re likely to find that friends, family and your physician enthusiastically recommend the experts at Professional Therapy Associates. Blaine Stimac and his team of skilled physical therapists have years of experience and a track record of successful outcomes. And with four convenient locations – including Kalispell, Columbia Falls, Whitefish, and Flathead Health and Fitness – you won’t have to travel far to obtain first-rate physical therapy services.

Find out how the team at Professional Therapy Associates can help you return to optimum health and pain-free living. For more details, visit

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