Skip to Main Content


At the completion of this chapter, the reader will be able to:

  1. Provide a definition of physical therapy

  2. Give a historical perspective of how the role of a physical therapist has changed over the years

  3. Name some of the pioneers who played a significant role in the development of today's physical therapy

  4. Describe how the name of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) was derived

  5. Describe how social change affected the growth of physical therapy in the United States

  6. Discuss the purposes of having a code of ethics for a profession

  7. Describe the differences between morals and ethics

  8. Have a good understanding of the Code of Ethics of the APTA

  9. Describe the various practice settings that employ physical therapists

  10. Describe the various members of the healthcare team


The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) is the organization that represents physical therapists and physical therapist assistants. It currently has a national office in Alexandria Virginia, as well as a chapter office in almost every state. APTA membership is voluntary and not mandatory for licensure. A number of APTA publications, including The Guide to Physical Therapist Practice ("the Guide")1 and a monthly journal aptly named Physical Therapy, provide guidance for the physical therapy profession.

The Guide has defined physical therapy as follows:

Physical therapy includes diagnosis and management of movement dysfunction and enhancement of physical and functional abilities; restoration, maintenance, and promotion of optimal physical function, optimal fitness and wellness, and optimal quality of life as it relates to movement and health; and prevention of the onset, symptoms, and progression of impairment, functional limitations, and disabilities that may result from diseases, disorders, conditions, or injuries.

An APTA publication, Today's Physical Therapist: A Comprehensive Review of a 21st-Century Health Care Profession,2 describes the practice of physical therapists in the following way:

Physical therapists are health care professionals who maintain, restore, and improve movement, activity, and health enabling an individual to have optimal functioning and quality of life, while ensuring patient safety and applying evidence to provide efficient and effective care. Physical therapists evaluate, diagnose, and manage individuals of all ages who have impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. In addition, physical therapists are involved in promoting health, wellness, and fitness through risk factor identification and the implementation of services to reduce risk, slow the progression of or prevent functional decline and disability, and enhance participation in chosen life situations.

In addition to providing habilitation and rehabilitation services, as well as prevention and risk reduction services, physical therapists also collaborate with other healthcare professionals to address patient needs, increase communica-tion, and provide efficient and effective care. Physical therapists also provide consulting, education, research, and administration services across the continuum of healthcare settings.

The APTA further defines physical therapists and physical therapy ...

Pop-up div Successfully Displayed

This div only appears when the trigger link is hovered over. Otherwise it is hidden from view.