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What is Physical Therapy?


Physical Therapy is a dynamic profession with an established theoretical and scientific base and widespread clinical applications in the restoration, maintenance and promotion of optimal physical function. This includes:
  • Examining individuals with impairment, functional limitation, and disability or other health-related conditions in order to determine a diagnosis, prognosis, and intervention.
  • Alleviating impairment and functional limitation by designing, implementing, and modifying therapeutic interventions.
  • Preventing injury, impairment, functional limitation, and disability, including the promotion and maintenance of fitness, health, and quality of life in people of all ages.
  • Engaging in consultation, education, and research.

What does a Physical Therapist do?

PTs provide services that help restore function, improve mobility, relieve pain, and prevent or limit permanent physical disabilities of patients with injuries or disease. PTs work closely with patients to restore, maintain, and promote their overall fitness and health. Patients may include accident victims and individuals with disabling conditions such as low back pain, fractures, head injuries, arthritis, heart disease, and cerebral palsy.

PTs examine patients' medical histories, then test and measure their strength, range of motion, balance and coordination, posture, muscle performance, respiration, and motor function. They also determine the patient's ability to be independent and reintegrated into the community or workplace after injury or illness. Finally, they develop treatment plans describing a treatment strategy, its purpose, and the anticipated outcome.

In Illinois, you can be referred to a physical therapist for evaluation and/or treatment. Physical therapists accept referrals from physicians, dentists, advanced practice nurses, physician assistants, podiatrists, and chiropractors.

You may also independently seek the opinion of a physical therapist.  A referral is not required for a physical therapy evaluation.

What does a Physical Therapist Assistant do?

PTAs perform components of physical therapy procedures and related tasks, as directed by a supervising physical therapist (PT). PTAs help patients who have movement difficulties due to injury or disease, by assisting the PT with therapies designed to improve mobility, relieve pain, and prevent or limit permanent physical disability. Patients may include accident victims and individuals with short and long-term disabling conditions, such as low back pain, fractures, head injuries, arthritis, heart disease, and cerebral palsy.

What is a physical therapy aide?

Physical therapy aides are any support personnel who perform designated tasks related to the operation of the physical therapy service. Typically, this means a person trained under the direction of a physical therapist who performs designated and supervised routine tasks related to physical therapy. Physical therapy aides are not licensed in Illinois.

Anyone can be a physical therapy aide.  If the individual is not licensed as either a physical therapist or physical therapist assistant under the Illinois PT Act, they are an aide.  The following professions are considered PT aides in Illinois:

Athletic Trainers
Exercise Physiologists
Personal Trainers
Massage Therapists
Physical Therapist Students & Physical Therapist Assistant Students
Other unlicensed or credentialed persons



updated: 06.13.14




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