Physical Therapist: Definition and What it is

Medically and clinically reviewed by Jonathan Lee, MD and Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT

Physical Therapist Definition and Meaning

A physical therapist (PT) is a licensed healthcare professional trained to work with people of all ages to alleviate pain, improve or restore mobility, help prevent and treat injuries, and manage symptoms of health conditions that affect physical function. 

According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), physical therapists are licensed providers who: 

  • Examine, diagnose, and treat movement dysfunction.

  • Help people impacted by disease, injury, and disability.

  • Prevent movement loss and promote wellness.

  • Use therapeutic exercise, modalities, assistive devices, patient education, and evidence-based research to treat patients.

If you’re recovering from an injury or issue (like a sprained knee or shoulder bursitis), or have been diagnosed with a chronic condition (like osteoarthritis or spinal stenosis), you may be referred to a physical therapist who can help support you in your recovery so you can heal and manage your symptoms. 

Physical Therapy Specialties

While most physical therapists work with a range of common conditions, some PTs specialize in specific parts of the body or medical conditions. 

Some common physical therapy specializations include: orthopedic physical therapy (treats musculoskeletal injuries affecting muscles, bones, ligaments, fascias, and tendons); pelvic floor physical therapy (focuses on strengthening the pelvic floor to improve bladder and bowel control and other pelvic issues); neurological physical therapy (aids patients with neurological conditions like stroke, cerebral palsy, or Parkinson's disease); cardiovascular and pulmonary rehabilitation (designed for those recovering from cardiac or pulmonary surgery and conditions); pediatric physical therapy (addresses conditions in infants, children, and adolescents); geriatric physical therapy (tailored to the unique movement and stability needs of older adults); and sports rehabilitation (for athletes recovering from sports-related injuries).

Physical Therapy Benefits: A Hinge Health Perspective

Physical therapy offers a broad spectrum of benefits, including pain control, enhanced mobility, injury recovery and prevention, and management of chronic conditions. 

As our Hinge Health care team says, movement is medicine. Movement builds strength and flexibility and resilience to pain. Sometimes the best way to get moving again if you’re dealing with pain, whether that’s from neck pain, a herniated disc, or a torn ACL, can be with the support of a physical therapist. 

A physical therapist can create a personalized exercise therapy treatment plan to help you safely mobilize what hurts, which promotes healing and reduces pain. They often use or recommend other methods, such as heat and cold therapy as well as massage, to ease pain. They can help you find your movement sweet spot and teach your body and mind that it’s safe to be active so you can get back to doing all the things you enjoy. 

You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.

How Hinge Health Can Help You 

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you. 

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. 

Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.


  1. Physical therapy. (2020). Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG). 

  2. Dubois, B., & Esculier, J.-F. (2019). Soft-tissue Injuries Simply Need PEACE and LOVE. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 54(2). doi:10.1136/bjsports-2019-101253

  3. The Physical Therapy Profession. (2020). American Physical Therapy Association.

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