7 Benefits of Physical Therapy, Backed by Science

There are countless reasons to see a physical therapist, including pain management, injury prevention, injury rehabilitation, better mobility, and management of chronic conditions. More specifically, here are six benefits of physical therapy backed by science.

1. Rehab from a sports-related injury

Not all sports-related injuries require surgery. But to prevent further damage, they do need targeted interventions that can decrease pain, strengthen the injured area, and help you get back to competition.

According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease, treatment of a more severe sports injury may require physical therapy for rehabilitation or fitting for a brace, cast, or splint.

A physical therapist can design a plan to help rebuild the injured area’s range of motion and strength. This may include targeted exercises, massage therapy, aquatic therapy, ultrasound, or cold and heat therapy to help strengthen muscles and joints and prevent further injury.

2. Reduce pain

Some pain requires prescription medications or surgery to improve, while other types of pain can benefit from physical therapy and exercise. Acute pain generally has a known cause and starts suddenly. However, it often gets better with time, treatment, and healing.

Chronic pain, on the other hand, lasts more than 3 months and is typically caused by an injury, disease, inflammation, medical treatment, or in some cases, an unknown reason. Opioids and other powerful drugs are often recommended for pain management.

But recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggested physical therapy as an effective option for managing pain instead of opioids.

Examples of physical therapy techniques used to reduce acute and chronic pain include therapeutic exercises, stretching, electrical stimulation, ultrasound, taping, cold and heat therapy, and massage.

3. Support neurological conditions

Physical therapy techniques may help support symptoms caused by neurological conditions such as stroke, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and issues related to spinal cord injuries.

A 2017 review found that 4 weeks of gait training or 8 weeks of balance training can have positive effects that last for 3 to 12 months after physical therapy sessions ended.

More specifically, researchers saw a reduction of falls for up to 12 months and an improvement in gait performance and walking capacity for up to 6 months after training.

A physical therapist can also assist with symptom management for people living with multiple sclerosis. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, common symptoms physical therapy can help with include balance, weakness, coordination, spasticity and flexibility, aerobic endurance, fatigue, and respiratory function.

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In-hospital physical therapy programs can assist with stroke rehabilitation and spine injury treatment before a person leaves the hospital, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

4. Reduce symptoms related to arthritis

Joint inflammation, pain, tenderness, swelling, and stiffness can be debilitating symptoms caused by rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. However, physical therapy may help reduce symptom severity and boost overall quality of life.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, physical therapy can help improve mobility and restore the use of affected joints, increase overall strength to help support joints, and maintain fitness levels.

5. Reduce complications related to pelvic floor dysfunction

Pregnancy and birth can do a number on your pelvic floor muscles. So might menopause, abdominal surgeries, and other conditions that may change intra-abdominal pressure or the tension of the pelvic floor muscles.

When the damage is significant, the pelvic floor muscles weaken and lose the ability to fully support the pelvic organs, causing urinary leakage, low back pain, sexual dysfunction, pelvic pressure, and prolapse.

Pelvic floor dysfunction can interrupt daily life. The good news is pelvic floor physical therapy, or PFPT, can help. According to a 2019 review, PFPT as a treatment for pelvic floor dysfunction has clear benefits as a first-line treatment for most pelvic floor disorders.

6. Shorten post-surgery recovery

Your doctor may recommend physical therapy in the weeks following surgery. Depending on the injury, surgical procedure, and overall health, treatment can last from a few weeks to several months.

Orthopedic physical therapy is designed to improve the range of motion, reduce pain, prevent excessive scar tissue buildup, and regain normal functioning after musculoskeletal surgery.

For example, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends physical therapy to help with a full recovery from surgery, restore strength, and allow for a gradual return to everyday activities.

What’s more, several studies have demonstrated that early mobilization and physical therapy for critically ill patients who were hospitalized led to a better quality of life, higher likelihood of walking longer distances, and better muscle function upon discharge.

7. Manage pain

Researchers have been exploring the link between physical therapy and a reduction in opioid use for patients managing chronic pain.

One large study examined people with new-onset chronic low back pain, and found that early physical therapy interventions decreased opioid use in both the short term and long term.

Another study — which also examined the use of physical therapy for chronic low back pain — found opioids were prescribed less often during follow up healthcare visits when patients were referred to and participated in physical therapy.

— Update: 11-02-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article 10 Reasons Why I Love Being a Physical Therapist from the website www.ptprogress.com for the keyword benefits of being a physical therapist.

Benefits of being a physical therapist

If I could do it all over again, would I choose to become a physical therapist?

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Besides keeping my physical therapy debt-to-income ratio under 1:1, I would have encouraged my younger self to consider home health therapy and travel therapy earlier on in my career.

But let’s focus on the positive. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my career as a PT, for reasons shared by many therapists in the practice. Here are the top 10 reasons why I’m glad I became a physical therapist. 

1. Physical Therapists are Movement Experts

The human body is absolutely fascinating, and as a physical therapist, I feel privileged to be an expert on muscles, bones, joints and nerves. 

For many, Anatomy and Physiology are some of the hardest classes in PT school – but they are also the most fascinating. It’s amazing to think about how all the body systems relate and interact as we move, and how that relationship impacts our lives. 

The best part of gaining this knowledge is in its application. Helping people restore their movement and resolve pain or discomfort is one of the most fulfilling parts of the job.

2. Physical Therapists Are Active

Working as a PT can actually be pretty tiring, but in a healthy way. PTs are on their feet at least 75% of the time. Although we do spend 25% of the day sitting behind a computer typing notes, most of the time we’re actually working with patients. Personally, I enjoy doing a lot of the exercises with my patients, which is probably why I end up tired after a long day!

Even if my patient’s workout doesn’t resemble what I’d do at the gym, it’s still nice to keep an active lifestyle while on the job.

3. Job Hour Flexibility

In most PT clinics, the hours of operation range from 7AM to 8PM. Fortunately for a PT, this means there’s an opportunity to work a shift other than the typical 9 to 5. Some PTs opt to work from 10 to 8, while others prefer an early shift from 7 to 3 so they can use the afternoon to run errands or manage family life.

Personally, I enjoyed working 4 ten-hour days during my first job as a PT. 

Although working 10 hours was tiring, I loved having a long weekend every week. It’s one of the reasons why I was able to focus on creating articles and videos for PTProgress!

4. Ability to Work Part-Time  

For a lot of people, workload flexibility is such a huge benefit of being a Physical Therapist. If a PT wants to take on a second job or needs more time outside of work, they can coordinate with the clinic to reduce hours or work part-time.  

Some PTs like variability in their work, so they choose to work part-time in an outpatient clinic 2 days a week and then pick up 3 to 4 days as a home health physical therapist. Typically, a home health PT earns about 30% more than an outpatient therapist, so the pay differential is significant for those wanting to eliminate their student loans quickly!

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5. Variety in Patients

A PT’s patient schedule changes each week as new patients start therapy and others are discharged. Not one day is the exact same, and each schedule of patients presents a unique lineup of diagnoses. In a given day, I may see 3 patients with back pain, followed by a patient recovering from a shoulder or knee replacement, followed by a 3-year-old!

The variety makes every day different and challenging, in a good way.

6. Autonomy in Practice

I appreciate the autonomy I have as a clinician to guide and direct each patient’s treatment. It’s up to me and my expertise as a physical therapist to help each patient reach their treatment goals. PTs have a responsibility to lead the way to progress, to monitor for red flags, and to involve other healthcare professionals if the need arises.

That sense of leadership and responsibility plays a big role in my work satisfaction.

7. Creativity in Patient Education

One of the key elements to an impactful Physical Therapy career is incorporating patient education within day-to-day interactions. Physical therapists are educators, and our patients are our students. Because each patient learns differently, therapists should take a creative approach in treatment instruction.

I particularly love this aspect of my work because I enjoy the challenge of explaining and simplifying difficult concepts.

8. Six-Figure Salary Potential

While the average PT salary is in the mid-$80,000 range (and about $68,000 for new grads), it’s possible to earn well over six figures as a PT. By working in home health or under a contract, a travel PT can earn $50/hour or more. PTs trying to quickly eliminate student loans should consider such opportunities.

Even a new grad can become a travel PT through an agency like MedTravelers, working short-term contracts at clinics county-wide. 

9. Physical Therapists Help People

There’s nothing more fulfilling in my work as a PT than hearing a heartfelt thank-you from a patient newly able to walk with less pain, or watching an amputee who thought they’d never walk again take laps around the clinic. I always try to credit my patients because they’ve put in the work to recover. But it’s a really great feeling to know I’ve made a difference in their life by working with them every week. 

10. Opportunities are Endless 

I think the opportunities for physical therapists are endless, both from a patient/treatment perspective and also a career/development perspective. 

Benefits of being a physical therapist

For example, advancements in technology have provided new ways for therapists to interact with their patients. One such resource is Medbridge, an online portal that enables therapists to guide and track treatment progress.  Technology has opened the door for therapists to reach people online and share expertise through social media channels. Through these avenues, we therapists have even more ways to positively impact others and make a lasting difference in the lives of our patients. 

Interested in becoming a Physical Therapist? Read Next:

How to Become a Physical Therapist


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About the Author: Tung Chi