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Physical therapy is a medical practice involving therapeutic activities to help patients regain mobility and normal bodily functions. It provides a remedy for the treatment of injuries, medical conditions, and pain management. Physical therapists receive a diagnosis from a physician, identify the appropriate treatment plan, and conduct customized therapy sessions to restore or better physical function.
Physical therapy and occupational therapy retrain the body and mind and play a vital role in improving or maintaining physical functions. Occupational therapy focuses on enhancing fine-motor skills or hand-eye coordination to perform daily activities, such as getting dressed or writing. Physiotherapy concentrates on improving pain, physical deterioration, and range of motion by stimulating blood circulation with targeted exercise.
Physical therapists help relieve pain and improve physical strength and movement to individuals of all ages with injuries or debilitating diseases, whether acute or chronic. They consult with doctors to learn about the patients' needs, evaluate movement dysfunctions, teach patients how to use equipment, and provide treatments, such as massage. Other responsibilities include monitoring progress and altering treatment as necessary.
Physical therapist assistants work under the supervision of physical therapists. Their responsibilities include reporting patient progress and working with individuals of all ages on therapeutic exercises, gait and balance training, and how to use recovery equipment.
Physical therapists are considered doctors of physical therapy and are qualified to use the title "Dr." in front of their name. The biggest difference between them and medical doctors is that PTs use exercises and massage to restore their patients' health, whereas doctors offer treatment using medications and surgeries.
Physical therapists don't perform medical diagnoses. In most cases, doctors perform the medical diagnoses and refer the patient to a physical therapist for rehabilitative treatment. The physical therapist conducts a physical evaluation to pinpoint the nature and extent of the physical damage or impairment and prepares a treatment plan.
Physical therapy usually lasts for 30 to 60 minutes per session. The length and frequency of the sessions depend on the type of therapy and the stage of recovery the patient is in. For injuries, such as muscle sprains, therapy may last for a few weeks, while in more severe cases, such as spinal injury, it may continue for years.
The overall cost of physical therapy depends on the number of sessions prescribed and the duration and type of treatment performed. On average, physical therapy costs between $75 and $150 per session, with patients requiring two to three sessions per week for 12 weeks. Additionally, equipment that is required for rehabilitation, such as hot and cold packs, crutches, exercise balls, and balance boards, may be included as part of the cost of physical therapy.
Many medical insurance service providers cover physical therapy. In some cases, the insurance may offer a co-pay option for medically necessary PT. With medical insurance, patients can pay as much as $20 to $55 per session. Some medical insurance plans, however, limit the number of physical therapy sessions they cover.
Medicare provides coverage for outpatient physical therapy. The plan covers 80% of treatment costs, leaving patients to pay the remaining 20%. Most Medicare plans have an upper limit of $2,110, and in cases where costs exceed this amount, your doctor is required to indicate that the therapy is medically necessary.
Physical therapy involves a lot of movement and exercise, so it's advisable to wear loose, lightweight clothing that doesn't restrict movement. This includes athletic wear, such as t-shirts, gym shorts, yoga or sweat pants, or tank tops. Supportive shoes, such as sneakers, are necessary, so no sandals, heels, or boots.
Compassion, attention to detail, good communication skills, and patience are all qualities necessary for a successful career as a physical therapist. To become licensed, they must meet academic qualifications, including a bachelor's degree and a doctorate in physical therapy. Applicants are then required to pass the National Physical Therapy Examination.
To become a physical therapist, an individual requires a bachelor’s degree in any field related to health sciences. This includes curricula in kinesiology, biomechanics, behavioral sciences, and physiology. The individual must then proceed to a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree, which is accredited by the CAPTE.
An individual becomes a physical therapy assistant by earning an associate's degree in physical therapy assistant. The program is accredited by CAPTE and takes two years to complete. On completing the associate degree program, graduates take a licensure exam administered by NPTE. Applicants who pass the exam are licensed and can practice physical therapy freely in any state.
Cumulatively, an aspiring physical therapist needs to take seven years of college education before becoming licensed. Prospective therapists start with a bachelor’s degree, which takes four years to accomplish, then proceed into a doctorate program, which takes three years to complete. High school students can shorten this duration by taking a Freshman Entry Doctor of Physical Therapy program that takes six years.
Like any other profession, incentives in the physiotherapy industry depend on experience. According to BLS's 2020 report, the entry-level physical therapist made about $63,530, while highly experienced therapists made $126,780. The median pay was $91,010, with the PT’s area of specialization affecting the payment.
The salary of a physical therapist assistant varies, depending on their experience and the employer. Based on BLS reports, in 2020, the median salary for a physical therapist assistant was $59,770 per year, and physical therapist aides making a median pay of $28,450 for the year.