A Practical Guide to a Career in Physical Therapy
Physical therapy, also known as physiotherapy, utilizes specially designed exercises and instrumentation in an effort to aid patients in their rehabilitation and the recovery of their motor skills following an accident or illness. Physical therapy is sometimes abbreviated as “PT” and it is prescribed for a wide variety of patients, from infants and children through adults and the elderly. Physical therapy schools therefore specialize in training would be therapists to administer these exercises to this large client base.
A Brief History of Physical Therapy Schools
Physical therapy schools date back to ancient Greece. Historical records show that the physical therapy vocation started as early as approximately 475 BC and was used to treat certain diseases. The Greek physicians Hippocrates and Hector used physical therapy to treat some patients during this period. Specifically, they made use of both massage therapy and hydrotherapy. There are also good reasons to believe that the simply carried on practices that were already established in the physical therapy schools of the day.
With regards to massage therapy, ancient physical therapists utilized certain oils while performing massages with the combination being designed to relieve pain. Hydrotherapy, also taught in the physical therapy schools of antiquity, involves the use of hot or cold water in the treatment of injuries and probably dates back to even before 475 BC.
Physical therapy and physical therapy schools gained a great deal of popularity during the First World War I (1914 – 1918). Medical supplies were often in short supply on the battle field and it was necessary to improvise in the treatment of injuries. Many of the medical personnel had experience with physical therapy techniques. And although many were not graduates of the top physical therapy schools, they frequently modified these techniques for the treatment of battle field injuries.
In 1921, Mary McMillan, a nurse serving during the first world war founded the American Women’s Physical Therapeutic Association, AWPTA. The formation of AWPTA (later renamed the American Physical Therapy Association, APTA) is often identified as one of the most important events in the history of physiotherapy and physical therapy schools. This momentous action by the “Mother of Physical Therapy”, as Mary McMillan would come to be known, was followed in the same year by the first research paper on physical therapy to be published in the United States. These two events combined to make 1921 one of the most important years in the history of physical therapy.
Modern Physical Therapy
To this day, physical therapy remains an important part of rehabilitation treatment for many individuals suffering from a wide variety of maladies. While physical therapy helps people to recover both their strength and range of motion following an illness or injury, it can also help a patient to manage pain, which makes the recovery process much more bearable. Indeed, when it is done consistently and properly, physical therapy can help to prevent permanent damage and eliminate recurring problems.
Physical therapy can consist of treatment with either heat or cold, electrical stimulation, ultrasound, massage, and water or whirlpool baths (hydrotherapy). It has been estimated that over 8 million patients receive physical therapy each year in the US and this number is growing. The need to ensure that these treatments are administered correctly and precisely is why the degrees handed out by the best physical therapy schools are very highly sought after.
Types of Physical Therapy
Physical therapy schools train students for the various specialty fields in physical therapy. These different specialties may not be well known to the public, but they ensure that patients get the best treatment from professional that are well trained and experienced in the treatments that they administer. Below is a brief description of the most common areas of specialty in which schools that the top of the physical therapy schools rankings offer training.
The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties lists eight specific specializations with regards to physical therapy.
- Cardiovascular & pulmonary
- Clinical electrophysiology
- Women’s health
Cardiovascular and Pulmonary
Cardiovascular and pulmonary physical therapy centers on individuals who suffer from cardiopulmonary disorders and those who have had cardiac or pulmonary surgery. The primary goals of this type of physical therapy are the increasing of patient endurance and their functional independence.
Clinical Electrophysiology primarily consists of using electrical stimulation to aid in the healing process. Areas where this has proven to a beneficial treatment include:
- Pain management
- Neuromuscular dysfunction
- Joint mobility
- Tissue repair
- Acute and chronic edema
- Peripheral blood flow
- Urinary and fecal incontinence
Geriatric physical therapy concerns issues that affect patients that have reached advanced age. Such issues as arthritis, osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s disease are thoroughly explored by physical therapy schools to ensure that geriatric physical therapists are well equipped.
Neurological physical therapy involves patients who suffer from neurological problems such as:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease)
- Brain injuries
- Cerebral palsy
- Multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson’s disease
- Spinal cord injuries
Orthopedic physical therapists are involved in the diagnoses and treatment of injuries or diseases of the musculoskeletal system and also assist patients in recovering from orthopedic surgery.
Pediatric physical therapy involves the diagnosis, treatment, and management of diseases in infants, children, and adolescents. Treatments focus on improving motor skills as well as cognitive functions. Many physical therapy schools will offer at least one module of this physical therapy to their undergraduates.
Physical therapy involving sports injuries centers on recovery from ACL and MCL injuries or damage to knees, ankles and other joints. It is closely related to orthopedic physical therapy.
Women’s health physical therapy specializes in the specific needs of female patients. Conditions that are commonly treated include:
- Pelvic Pain and Urinary Incontinence
- The Prenatal & Postpartum Periods
Becoming a Licensed Physical Therapist
The first step to becoming a licensed physical therapist involves getting an education and receiving a master’s or doctorate degree from one of the many accredited physical therapy schools. Classes typically include:
- Anatomy of the brain and central nervous system
- Examination techniques
- Therapeutic procedures
Beyond this, candidates must pass national and/or state licensing exams. The best physical therapy schools will often aid their students in arranging the sitting of these exams. Following success in these exams, regular retesting is required in many states for physical therapists to retain their licenses. Tuition for physical therapy schools ranges from approximately $35,000 to over $75,000 dollars.
Job Outlook and Salary
According to the US Bureau of Labor, the field of physical therapy is expected to grow at a greater rate than other jobs that require at least a master’s degree. There are currently over 185,000 licensed graduates of physical therapy schools employed in the US. Additionally, the average starting salary for a licensed physical therapist with at least a master’s degree is in excess of $57,000. The average salary for physical therapists is over $75,000 with the top earners, like those with a doctor of physical therapy earning in excess of $105,000.