Which Physical Therapy Skills Are Needed?

Physical therapists work as part of a healthcare team, providing care to people of all ages who have functional problems resulting from injury or illness and as such they need various physical therapy skills. They make use of a variety of different techniques or modalities to treat patients suffering from functional or mobility problems as a result of amputations; sprains, strains, and fractures; arthritis; birth conditions such as cerebral palsy; back and neck injuries; stroke; injuries related to work and sports; and other conditions.

Physical therapists also assist patients recovering from operations and are often an important part of the rehabilitation, treatment and care of patients suffering from chronic conditions or diseases. Physical therapists also play an important role in helping to keep the elderly healthy and mobile for much longer by developing fitness and wellness-oriented programs which will promote healthier and more active lifestyles.

Physical therapists (PTs) provide services to help patients to develop maintain or restore functionality and mobility by incorporating physical, emotional and psychological methods into their treatments. Techniques employed include the use of assistive and adaptive devices and equipment, applying heat and cold, hands-on stimulation or massage, which means that they require a whole host of different physical therapy skills.Physical Therapy Skills

Physical Therapy Duties

PTs have to perform a wide range of tasks within their day to day jobs, and apart from treating patients with various modalities and different types of equipment, they also:

  • Oversee the work of physical therapist assistants and aides
  • Consult with physicians, surgeons and other specialists
  • Use various methods to diagnose a patient’s dysfunctional movements by listening to their concerns, watching them stand, watching them walk, and move about, to see exactly where and to what degree they are dysfunctional
  • Devise an exercise plan for patients, outlining the goals and the planned treatments
  • Evaluate patient progress, modify treatment plans and try new treatments as required
  • Discuss problems and exercise regimens with patients and their families
  • Educate patients and their families as to what to expect during the patient’s recovery period and how best to cope with what happens


The necessary education requirements must be achieved in order to become a physical therapist. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that school students learn the skills necessary to become a physical therapist by taking classes in chemistry, biology, human growth, biomechanics, physics, therapeutic procedures and examination techniques.


According to the College of Health Professionals, all potential physical therapists need to acquire the necessary skills to pass a rigorous licensing exam. Each state regulates its own practices of physical therapy, which means that eligibility requirements differ from state to state, so it is important that you find out what the requirements are in the state in which you intend to practice. It is important that you pass the licensing exam in order to get licensed and imbue the state, potential employers and patients with a sense of faith and trust in your abilities as a physical therapist.

Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for physical therapists is expected to increase by a whopping 39 percent during the 2010 to 2020 decade, which is much faster than the average for all other occupations. This demand for physical therapy skills will mainly come from the aging baby boomer population, who are staying active later in life than previous generations did due to innovations in modern medicine.

Required Physical Therapy Skills

An individual desiring to enter into the physical therapy profession needs some very specific physical therapy skills, according to the American Physical Therapy Association, so it would be wise to ensure that you have these skills

  1. Adaptation Skills

The physical therapy profession is constantly changing as new research into the best forms of patient care is constantly being done. When new treatments are discovered, which happens fairly often, physical therapists need to adapt their physical therapy skills in order to incorporate the new procedures into their treatment regimen.

  1. Basic Office Skills

Physical therapists need good language skills such as basic spelling, grammar and punctuation skills. They also need to have skills in typing, data entry and 10-key skills. These may seem like strange physical therapy skills, but they are necessary as physical therapists are in constant e-mail communication with other medical professionals and often need to prepare detailed customized instructions for patients, including exercise regimens. Many physical therapists are also required to write PT articles to be published in sports-related consumer magazines and professional journals.  Physical therapists also need to know how to use common software such as MS Word, Excel and Outlook.

  1. Communication

Physical therapists work with patients, their families and many other professionals, so they need to have very strong interpersonal physical therapy skills in order to facilitate their education of patients and their families about disorders, treatment and prevention. Patients generally respond much better to treatment when they fully understand what the recommended treatment is, why it is necessary, and why they are having the problems they are with their bodies. Effective phone skills and effective verbal communication are also required.

  1. Cognitive/Behavioral Skills

Cognitive and behavioral skills are a big part of the skill set that are required, as physical therapists are required to do a fair amount of problem solving and diagnosing, which means that the use of computers to search, record, analyze and store data is essential. Skills that fall under this set of physical therapy skills include the ability to:

  • Collect and integrate data about patients in order to problem-solve safely and effectively.
  • Handle the emotional stress of working with patients in need of compassionate health care.
  • Read, comprehend and analyze patient information.
  • Comprehend and effectively communicate orally and in writing, in English, using the appropriate vocabulary and grammar.
  • Render unprejudiced assistance to individuals from across the cultural spectrum.
  • Maintain a personal hygiene regimen that is consistent with up close and personal contact associated with patient care.
  • Prioritize and manage multiple tasks simultaneously.
  • Interact effectively with patients, their families, supervisors, and colleagues, regardless of their sexual orientation, race, ancestry, national origin, gender, culture, religion, age, or disability.
  • Abide by the Rehabilitative Health Department and PTA Program policies and procedures.
  • Portray professional behavior at all times and under all circumstances, including academic and professional responsibility, ethics, professional presentations, and commitment to learning.
  1. Interpersonal Skills

One of the really important physical therapy skills is the ability to demonstrate integrity, empathy, and motivation. The job can get very stressful and it will sometimes take all you have to maintain your emotional health in order to meet all the responsibilities and exercise sound judgment. Teamwork is also very important as you will generally work as part of a team.

  1. Motor Skills

A PT must be able to evaluate a patient’s condition through touch, to perform procedures involving grasping, pushing and pulling, fingering, holding, extending and rotation. They need to be able to carry heavy objects, stand in and maintain awkward positions, lift and transfer patients and perform many other unusual tasks that call for good motor skills.

  1. Observational Skills

Observational skills are integral to the physical therapist profession, as a PT must be able to acquire a complete medical history from the patient, family or guardian, observe demonstrations and patients, and examine patient’s skin color, odors, skin texture, and other anatomical features for diagnostic purposes. Good hearing, touch sight, and smell are very important physical therapy skills to have.

  1. Physical Skills

The job of a physical therapist is very physically demanding, and this means that you need to be able to lift 50 pounds minimum, as you will often be called upon to conduct facilitated stretching exercises, and act as a spotter when patients make use of specialized equipment. Apart from the above skills, the following physical skills are also very important:

  • The ability to feel muscle tone, pulse, and bony landmarks
  • The ability to listen to, hear and respond to calls for assistance, timers, monitors, and verbal directions.
  • The ability to hear heart and lung sounds, which is especially important when dealing with patients with lung problems
  • The ability to climb when assisting or instructing a patient on the stairs
  • The ability to bend, twist, and lift safely in order to assist a patient moving from one surface to another
  • The ability to perform the chest compressions required to perform Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation
  • The ability to detect odors such as environmental hazards, smoke, equipment that is burning, spills, and pathophysiological conditions
  • The ability to visually observe and assess a patient from 10 feet away
  • The agility to move rapidly so as to ensure patient safety
  • The ability to identify and diagnose color changes on the skin
  • The ability to respond speedily to an auditory or visual timer
  • The physical capacity to work a 40 hour week during clinical affiliations
  • The ability to apply manual resistance to a patient’s leg, arm or torso during an exercise regimen
  • The ability to kneel, reach, crouch, push/pull, and crawl to assist patients to perform exercises or do them for the patient are very important physical therapy skills
  • Adequate manual dexterity to safely grip and manipulate small articles and dials
  • The balance, coordination and strength to safely assist, guard and protect a patient negotiating a stairway with an assistive device
  • The ability to respond quickly to a visual or auditory patient call button
  • The visual acuity to read  and set scales, digital displays and dials on equipment, and to read from the medical record
  1. Stress Management Skills

The job of a physical therapist is very stressful and demanding, and one of the physical therapy skills that is of the utmost importance to you personally is the ability to handle stress with panache and maintain your cool in front of patients and colleagues

  1. The Desire to Help Others

Becoming a physical therapist is, like many other jobs in the medical profession, more than just a job; it is a calling, which means that you must have a desire to help others and be truly interested in making a change for the better in their lives and helping them to get their lives back on track

  1. Technology Skills

Technology is a big part of physical therapy, from entering data into a patient’s e-file or a database to using various forms of modern technology to perform diagnoses, and do exercises. Being technologically inclined will also help you to adapt easily to new medical technologies that are released often

  1. Treatment

Physical therapists must know how to examine patients and test them for coordination, strength, balance, and range of motion.Poncethe tests have been compiled you will need to create a treatment plan which will include exercises that will promote endurance, strength and flexibility. Other treatment physical therapy skills include being able to utilize various modalities such as ultrasound and electrical stimulation to forestall pain and swelling, and the use of hot packs and ice. Physical therapy is not all about exercising; it also includes therapeutic massages and deep-tissue massage to help improve circulation and motion in the body.

As a physical therapist you may see patients in a hospital setting or in a medical office such as an orthopedic setting, or in private practice. Patients are generally referred by a physician who prescribes physical therapy treatment as a part of their patient’s recovery, and this may entail massages, the use of weights, treadmills, mats, and various other modalities and technological equipment.

A physical therapist’s job is very strenuous for the most part, and they spend most of the day either on their feet or involved in physical work, so endurance and the ability to relax and recharge after work are two more very important personal physical therapy skills that you need to have in order to be a successful physical therapist.

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