Physical therapists work with patients who have lost certain physical abilities through injury or illness to relieve their pain, help them regain physical strength, help them recover the use of an affected limb, or relearn how to perform the activities of daily living. They confer with the patient's physician prior to initiating treatment and evaluation. Evaluating a patient's physical ability through testing, which includes range-of-motion tests, manual-muscle tests, gait and functional analysis, and other diagnostic tools, helps the therapist establish a program for the patient, teach the patient the techniques they need to use, and monitor their progress. Physical therapists work in rehabilitation, community health, industry, sports, research, education and administration. They also perform patient evaluations.

The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties certifies qualified physical therapists in seven areas of specialty (cardiopulmonary, clinical electrophysiology, neurology, orthopedics, pediatrics, geriatrics and sports physical therapy). Certified specialists are denoted by the letters D.S., which appear after their area of specialty.