According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a Physical Therapist (sometimes called a PT) is someone who helps “injured or ill people improve their movement and manage their pain.” While that is certainly true, the vagueness of the description can be something of a turn off for someone who might be thinking of physical therapy as a viable career option.
Pop culture doesn’t really help with this. Every time a physical therapist is featured on television or in a movie, their actions seem limited to teaching people who to walk or move their arms again. Yes, physical therapists do sometimes help people re-learn how to walk and how to improve their range of motion in various limbs. This is not, however, all they do.
There are many different jobs that fall under the “physical therapy” umbrella. If you’ve been intrigued by the field and have looked into studying PT, but are turned off at the idea of having to be confined to a hospital ever day, you might want to consider the following specializations.
1. Sports Medicine
There are few people who need physical therapy more often than athletes. Part of an athlete’s job is putting himself (or herself) in a position to be injured. Many sports teams employ at least one physical therapist to work with the team’s primary physician to help rehabilitate players who have been injured. Obviously, these types of positions are highly coveted and hard to come by, but if you can get one of them, you could spend your days traveling with the team.
If you like the thrill of being around performers but sports aren’t your thing, that’s okay—physical therapists are often needed within the entertainment industry, particularly among dancers. You could apply for a job with a dance company or specialize in helping Broadway performers get back on stage.
2. Relaxation And Meditation
Most people, when they think of going to a spa, think of getting massages, body wraps, and drinking copious amounts of cucumber water. Did you know that there are areas of physical therapy that are dedicated to pain relief and body work? You can help people manage chronic pain disorders and learn to deal with joint or muscular spasms. While few spas employ physical therapists for their guests, you can get work in a clinic offering “manual therapy”—a type of physical therapy that involves things like massage and improving peoples’ alignment.
3. Cancer Treatments
Many oncology clinics employ physical therapists to help patients who are undergoing (or who have recently finished a round of) treatment. Chemotherapy and radiation take a lot out of people. Some patients find themselves left barely mobile and in intense amounts of pain after a treatment. A physical therapist can help the patient manage his or her pain and help improve range of motion after undergoing treatment.
4. Neurological Physical Therapy
This field takes a lot of intense training. Someone who specializes in neurological physical therapy will help patients who have suffered from strokes and other brain injuries. In this job, you could be helping someone learn how to speak, how to eat, and so on. Neurological physical therapists also help patients who are affected by diseases like Parkinson’s, Cerebral palsy, and MS.
Remember: physical therapists don’t just work with car crash victims (though there are a lot who do). Physical therapists work with both the macro and the micro of physical life and motion. You might decide to go into geriatric physical therapy or pediatric physical therapy. Or, maybe you love the idea of working in hospital with a variety of different types of therapies. What’s most important is that you understand that this field is not as limited as you might have initially thought!
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