Moving Towards a Physical Therapy Career

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According to the dictionary by Merriam-Webster, a career is known as “a profession for which one trains and which is undertaken as a permanent calling.” The definition is true for various job positions and titles, physical therapy being one of many careers that fall under a career category. Through the course of any form of education, an individual will find his or her true passion in something, whatever it may be. Although physical therapists are not typical healthcare professionals many think about, they are extremely important to the medical field. Physical therapists exist throughout particular subgroups that of which go through extensive, rigorous education to get the qualifications needed to help their patients gain strength, enhancing the individual’s overall life performance.

Careers are professions that are taken on for a significant period in an individual’s lifetime. This is what allows for many positive opportunities in someone’s life. Careers are important for anyone. For example, careers help families make ends meet by creating a high sense of job security and insurance coverage, as well as advancement opportunity. Physical therapy is a career in a sense that many years of schooling are needed to gain an appropriate level of knowledge for the job. Physical therapy is a career that will keep on growing in the future because there is always a need for it – people will always need ways to recover from diseases and/or injury. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, physical therapy is “for the preservation, enhancement, or restoration of movement and physical function impaired or threatened by disease, injury, or disability that utilizes therapeutic exercise, physical modalities (such as massage and electrotherapy), assistive devices, and patient education and training.”

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Physical therapy is a career that is both rewarding and educational. However, there are many important aspects to becoming a physical therapist. PTs must be knowledgeable of all material needed to heal and help patients. It is also important for for physical therapists to be patient with clients and their varying needs by having both a positive and realistic outlook, as well as caring qualities. Important keys to this job include communication with bosses, coworkers, and patients alike, as well as cooperation, accountability, and organization. To continue, salary and growth are what also make physical therapy a great career choice. The average pay in North Carolina is $81,050 a year and $38.97 an hour, which is also the national average pay according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. PT is also divided into many groups that make up the whole career of physical therapy. Each of the various subgroups of physical therapy have specific traits that help care for different types of people. Orthopedic physical therapists mainly focus on sports injuries. This kind of physical therapy restores the muscular and skeletal systems of the body such as joints, tendons, ligaments, muscles, and bones, which are typically treated. Treatments include various stretches, strengthening exercises to mobilize the joints, tendons, etc., heat and ice treatments, as well as electrical muscle stimulation, and ultrasound techniques. Pediatric physical therapists focus on helping children from the age of a few months to adolescents. This kind of physical therapy is specialized in helping young patients with birth defects, physical developmental delays, muscle or orthopedic disabilities, or just a common injury.

Any of these ailments can be genetic, neurological, or physical. Physical therapists in this subgroup work to ease pain of children and their families by teaching them exercises that allow them to return, or begin, “normal” kid activities, or to make their life easier. Cardiopulmonary physical therapists focus on helping patients with improving cardiovascular and/or lung health. This kind of physical therapy is a combination of helping both the cardiovascular and pulmonary systems, and the goal is to increase an individual’s endurance, which was weakened by some event or disease. Some of the common focuses of treatment for this kind of physical therapy include recovering from heart attacks and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Neurological physical therapists focus on neurological impairments. The main goal for this kind of physical therapy is to help each patient achieve independent functioning for as long as it is possible, specifically according to doctor or other healthcare professionals. Some of the neurological disorders are more common in elderly patients, but others are caused through any kind of trauma to the brain, spinal cord, and/or nerves. Along with spinal cord and brain issues, Alzheimer’s disease, cerebral palsy, muscle dystrophy, stroke, and Parkinson’s disease are just a few examples. Geriatric physical therapists mainly focus on the elderly population. As people age, mobility decreases so this kind of therapy helps elderly patients to achieve a higher level of motion or maintain their current status. Physical therapists place a big focus on ailments caused by osteoporosis, arthritis, weak joints, Alzheimer’s, certain cancers, surgeries (hips and other major joints), any other disease that causes physical impairments. Geriatric treatments are centered around light strength and stretching exercises compared to an athlete, as the therapist does a lot more hands on things, rather than the patient doing them on their own. Each subgroup is special to its own qualities, but treatments can be a part of any physical therapy subgroup. Treatments are what help physical therapists heal their patients more efficiently. Stretches and strengthening exercises are generally the first kinds of treatments used by PTs. The purpose of stretches is to elongate muscles, tendons, ligaments to increase movement and flexibility.

Tendons are what connect muscle to bone and ligaments connect bone to bone. On the other hand, strengthening exercises are what make muscles contract. This contraction allows for both muscle endurance, as well as skeletal muscle size to increase. In a general sense, stretches are used with your own body weight and strengthening exercises are used with other sources of weight and are repetition sets. There are seven different kinds of stretches according to Baker (2017). Static stretching is what pushes the body into the farthest position possible to be able to hold it for at least thirty seconds to get a slight, but not painful, “pull” sensation. An example of static stretching is to touching your toes. Passive stretching is basically the same kind of stretch at static, except someone else or a machine does the stretch for the individual. For example, a therapist pulls a patient’s leg up to stretch the hamstring. Dynamic stretching is when the arms and legs get a full range of motion by gradually increasing the speed of movement, like arm circles or skipping. Ballistic stretching forces the body out of its normal range of motion, such as bouncing in either a static or passive stretch. This kind of stretching is not used for everyday people, but rather for highly competitive athletes. Active isolated stretching requires holding a certain position without any assistance from oneself or another person and/or machine. This way, muscle elasticity and circulation increase.

Isometric stretching requires resistance to a stretch. This could be a therapist holding a patient’s leg down while the patient tries to force their leg back the opposite way. This is known as one of the most effective stretches for alleviating pain in joints that of which is caused by weak or damaged tendons and ligaments. Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) is a combination of isometric, static, and passive stretching. This means that an individual must first passively stretch a muscle, then contract the muscle isometrically, and finally passively stretching the muscle to provide a complete full range of motion. Besides stretching and strengthening exercises, hot and cold therapy is a common occurrence for individuals in therapy. Cold therapy is used for the first twenty-four to seventy-two hours to treat injuries by reducing the swelling and inflammation. This happens due to vasoconstriction, which is when blood vessels constrict and decrease blood flow to reduce swelling. Heat therapy is used after the first seventy-two hours of injury to relieve the lasting pain which is usually caused by joint and muscle injuries. By using heat, therapists are able to get the muscle fibers to loosen. The increase in circulating blood gets the “bad,” deoxygenated, blood that has built up out of the injured area. This is called vasodilation. Here, blood vessels dilate and increase blood flow. Electrical muscle stimulation is generally paired with heat and cold therapy. It is a type of treatment used where electrical impulses are sent to motor neurons, which in turn cause muscles to fire, or contract.

The benefits of this kind of treatment are that it speeds up recovery time from injury, especially in surgery it again increases the blood flow and strengthens muscle fibers. The ultrasound technique used in physical therapy is different from the common ultrasounds used in pregnancy. A clear or blue gel is placed on the skin to provide a smooth contact for the ultrasound without causing a burn. The role of this kind of treatment is to provide heat to the deeper tissues within the body through the use of ultrasonic waves increasing blood flow. The ultrasound can be applied to tissues such as muscles, joints, tendons, or ligaments. The graston technique uses stainless steel instruments to massage injuries within the soft tissue of the body. It is a common manual hands-on therapy that many therapists use. The various shapes and angles of the instruments allow for different pressures to be applied and parts of the tissue to be assessed properly. Myofascial trigger point dry needling, or just “dry needling,” is a technique used for properly trained physical therapists, like those who complete the graston technique. In this technique, a needle is put into the skin without medication or injection.

There are specific areas treated that are called, trigger points. These spots are basically large knots that are made within the skeletal muscles that can be tender to touch and motions. Dry needling allows for the muscle bands to unwind when the needle stimulates it. The final kind of treatment is KT tape. This is used by many athletes around the world. What KT tape does is basically take spot of a brace. It provides support to muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints. When applied correctly, the job of KT tape is also to lift up the skin, allowing for more lymph and blood circulation. This reduces swelling by removing wastes out of the hurting area. All of these treatments are used commonly by many physical therapists, providing an effective recovery process, each specific to the patient. The process of which an individual becomes a physical therapist is a long one, but extremely rewarding in the end. High school classes are important to gain college credits beforehand because it helps to get into good college programs for a great head start. Both the science classes and math classes should be of huge focus. Once done with high school, the individual needs to focus on undergraduate and graduate work. Typical education is a three to four year undergraduate degree with a folling graduate program degree. All states also require a licensure, and sometimes there are some specialty certifications available. Undergraduate work consists of about two years of general education classes that are not really focused on the major, but can be shortened with classes taken through high school.

The other two years are more aimed at major work for a bachelor’s degree, and may consist of a lot of research and an internship depending on the major or school. Some of the common majors include kinesiology, exercise science, and athletic training. Each is about the same for becoming a physical therapist, but some schools may have one and not the other, or may have varying prerequisites. At the end of the undergraduate program, individuals will want to apply for Physical Therapy schools. According to the Honors College at UNCC, there are ten total recognized physical therapy graduate programs in North Carolina. Two of which have a developing status. To get into a graduate school is a hard process because high GPAs, a high placement test score, and the proper prerequisites are needed. However, once in graduate school, there is a larger focus on internships with experienced physical therapists, more classes with labs, and clinicals for a DPT or MPT. By trying to get these larger degrees, there is a lot of school needed. It can be anywhere from six to even ten years at most. Physical therapists have to know a lot of information, especially to pass a state licensure test to be able to even work. There are some other careers an individual can go into with the same classes as a PT, but will still need a degree or some sort of certification. These include an athletic trainer, occupational therapist, massage therapist, physician, or physician assistant. Besides education, there are not too many overall qualifications for physical therapy. For example, there is not really an overpowering typical gender for physical therapists. However, many tend to be males because of lifting heavy objects, or doing a lot of physical work.

The age range is right out of graduate school, around middle twenties. Most physical therapists retire at normal age, which is around sixty years old. These people all have, or need to have, an upbeat and positive attitude. This is what keeps the patients feeling relaxed and hopeful for a better recovery process, as well as creating a good work environment for other employees. The aptitude of PTs includes being able to think quickly. This helps individuals to be able to evaluate and solve problems effectively. These personal qualifications help to make PTs the best they can be. The overall job nature of physical therapy is quite unique. Physical therapy is a rewarding job, in a sense that PTs help those in need with either disease or injury. They mainly work with patients one-on-one, and see the patient’s recovery process, making the hard work very rewarding. Physical therapy was even ranked by Forbes magazine as one of the “Ten Happiest Jobs” in 2011 and 2013. PTs are highly educated in movements and functions regarding the anatomy of humans. They also have a high job security since physical therapists are always needed, as well as the ability to virtually choose where to work, and there is not traveling unless a certain class is needed to take. Each job setting for a PT is different, but there are a few main areas of focus.

Hospitals are used for helping patients recover from surgery or disease. Private practices can be virtually any patient ranging from pediatric to geriatric. This kinds of setting is one of the most common. Outpatient clinics are in charge of helping those recover from surgery. Home health agencies and nursing homes are for mainly geriatric patients or those with diseases that inhibit physical functioning. Some settings are even among some schools and universities. Here, the main goal is helping athletes from injury or those with diseases or illness. Sometimes sports and fitness facilities will have PT sections. They are typically used for sports injuries or injuries from workouts. Along with settings, no two days on the job are alike. The daily routine for a physical therapist is seeing many different patients for different reasons. Even the strengths and weaknesses of patients vary. Physical therapists will create various recovery plans and write notes for each patient during and after appointment, as well as oversee the physical therapist assistants (PTAs). A good average for hours as a PT is from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. However, in places like nursing homes and hospitals, PTs work around at certain times when those places are open. Overall they do not generally work on the weekends, are closed for most holidays, and are alloted so much time off from work depending on work setting. A job as a physical therapist is pretty flexible overall. The benefits of being a PT is seeing patients get better and become more self-sufficient, while some issues could be the possibility of coworker or boss issues or not knowing particular diagnosis. However, these things could happen at any job, and everyone might need to ask for help at some point.

Overall, physical therapy is a flexible job market unlike anything else, which creates many opportunities for success. Physical therapy is a career that is extremely important, and has been growing in significance over the past few decades. In this career, physical therapists are trained through the educational process to gain essential knowledge, allowing them to be divided into different categories with specializations that allow for each patient to get treated properly based on his or her needs. The career of physical therapy is quite rewarding, and are health care professionals that truly put in the work to become the helping hand for the many patients they see.

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Moving Towards a Physical Therapy Career. (2022, Jan 13). Retrieved from

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