In addition to clinical practice, other aspects of physical therapist practice include research, education, consultation, and health administration. Physical therapy is provided as a primary care treatment or alongside, or in conjunction with, other medical services. In some jurisdictions, such as the United Kingdom, physical therapists have the authority to prescribe medication.
Physical therapists also practice in the non-patient care roles such as health policy, health insurance, health care administration and as health care executives. Physical therapists are involved in the medical-legal field serving as experts, performing peer review and independent medical examinations.
Education varies greatly by country. The span of education ranges from some countries having little formal education to others having doctoral degrees and post-doctoral residencies and fellowships.
Physicians like Hippocrates and later Galen are believed to have been the first practitioners of physical therapy, advocating massage, manual therapy techniques and hydrotherapy to treat people in 460 BC.
Educational criteria for physical therapy providers vary from state to state and from country to country, and among various levels of professional responsibility. Most U.S. states have physical therapy practice acts that recognize both physical therapists (PT) and physical therapist assistants (PTA) and some jurisdictions also recognize physical therapy technicians (PT Techs) or aides. Most countries have licensing bodies that require physical therapists to be a member of before they can start practicing as independent professionals.
In the province of Quebec, physical rehabilitation therapists are health care professionals who are required to complete a three-year college diploma program in physical rehabilitation therapy and be members of the Ordre Professionnel de la physiothérapie du Québec (OPPQ) to practice legally in the country.
Most physical rehabilitation therapists complete their college diploma at Collège Montmorency, Dawson College, or Cégep Marie-Victorin, all situated in and around the Montreal area.
After completing their technical college diploma, graduates have the opportunity to pursue their studies at the university level to perhaps obtain a bachelor’s degree in physiotherapy, kinesiology, exercise science, or occupational therapy. The Université de Montréal, the Université Laval and the Université de Sherbrooke are among the Québécois universities that admit physical rehabilitation therapists in their programs of study related to health sciences and rehabilitation to credit courses that were completed in college.
To date, there are no bridging programs available to facilitate upgrading from the BScPT to the MPT credential. However, research Master’s of Science (MSc) and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs are available at every university. Aside from academic research, practitioners can upgrade their skills and qualifications through continuing education courses and curriculums. Continuing education is a requirement of the provincial regulatory bodies.
The Canadian Alliance of Physiotherapy Regulators (CAPR) offers eligible program graduates to apply for the national Physiotherapy Competency Examination (PCE). Passing the PCE is one of the requirements in most provinces and territories to work as a licensed physiotherapist in Canada. CAPR has members which are physiotherapy regulatory organizations recognized in their respective provinces and territories:
Physiotherapy degrees are offered at three universities: Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Glasgow Caledonian University in Glasgow, and Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh. Students can qualify as physiotherapists by completing a four-year Bachelor of Science degree or a two-year master’s degree (if they already have an undergraduate degree in a related field).
To use the title ‘Physiotherapist’, a student must register with the Health and Care Professions Council, a UK-wide regulatory body, on qualifying. Many physiotherapists are also members of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists (CSP), which provides insurance and professional support.
Job duties and education requirements for Physical Therapy Technicians or Aides may vary depending on the employer, but education requirements range from a high school diploma or equivalent to completion of a 2-year degree program.
Some jurisdictions allow physical therapists to employ technicians or aides or therapy assistants to perform designated routine tasks related to physical therapy under the direct supervision of a physical therapist. Some jurisdictions require physical therapy technicians or aides to be certified, and education and certification requirements vary among jurisdictions.
Geriatric physical therapy covers a wide area of issues concerning people as they go through normal adult aging but is usually focused on the older adult. There are many conditions that affect many people as they grow older and include but are not limited to the following: arthritis, osteoporosis, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, hip and joint replacement, balance disorders, incontinence, etc. Geriatric physical therapists specialize in providing therapy for such conditions in older adults.
Neurological physiotherapy is also called neurophysiotherapy or neurological rehabilitation. It is recommended for neurophysiotherapists to collaborate with psychologists when providing physical treatment of movement disorders. This is especially important because combining physical therapy and psychotherapy can improve neurological status of the patients.
Orthopedic physical therapists diagnose, manage, and treat disorders and injuries of the musculoskeletal system including rehabilitation after orthopedic surgery. acute trauma such as sprains, strains, injuries of insidious onset such as tendinopathy, bursitis, and deformities like scoliosis. This specialty of physical therapy is most often found in the outpatient clinical setting. Orthopedic therapists are trained in the treatment of post-operative orthopedic procedures, fractures, acute sports injuries, arthritis, sprains, strains, back and neck pain, spinal conditions, and amputations.
Pediatric physical therapy assists in the early detection of health problems and uses a variety of modalities to provide physical therapy for disorders in the pediatric population. These therapists are specialized in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of infants, children, and adolescents with a variety of congenital, developmental, neuromuscular, skeletal, or acquired disorders/diseases. Treatments focus mainly on improving gross and fine motor skills, balance and coordination, strength and endurance as well as cognitive and sensory processing/integration.
Physical therapists are closely involved in the care and wellbeing of athletes including recreational, semi-professional (paid), and professional (full-time employment) participants. This area of practice encompasses athletic injury management under 5 main categories:
Physical therapists who work for professional sports teams often have a specialized sports certification issued through their national registering organization. Most Physical therapists who practice in a sporting environment are also active in collaborative sports medicine programs too (See also: athletic trainers).