Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is a common treatment that can help you recover after an injury or surgery, or manage symptoms from a health condition that affects how you move. It’s a combination of exercises, stretches and movements that’ll increase your strength, flexibility and mobility to help you move safely and more confidently.


What is physical therapy?

Physical therapy is treatment that helps you improve how your body performs physical movements. It can be part of a generalized pain management plan or a specific treatment for an injury or health condition. It’s common to need physical therapy after many types of surgery, too. You might also need physical therapy to help prevent injuries before they happen.

You’ll work with a physical therapist — a healthcare provider who’ll make sure you’re safe during your therapy.

How long you’ll need physical therapy depends on which injuries or health conditions you have and which area of your body needs help moving better. Some people only need a few weeks of physical therapy to help with a short-term issue. Others need it for months or years to manage symptoms of a chronic (long-term) condition.

What does physical therapy treat?

Most people start physical therapy after a healthcare provider diagnoses an injury or condition. Examples include:

You might need physical therapy to manage a chronic condition, including:

What are the types of physical therapy?

Physical therapy is a combination of hands-on techniques (a therapist moving part of your body) and exercises or movements you perform with a physical therapist’s supervision. Physical therapy can include:

Physical therapy is usually an outpatient treatment, which means you aren’t staying in a hospital or healthcare facility while you do it. You might start therapy if you’re staying in the hospital after an injury or surgery then continue it after you go home.

Depending on where you live and which type of physical therapy you need, you might do your therapy at a specialized clinic, in the hospital or even in your own home. You might be able to do physical therapy with a virtual visit, either on a video call or over the phone (telehealth).


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Risks / Benefits

What are the benefits of physical therapy?

Physical therapy can work on any system in your body that controls your movement, including your:

Physical therapy can strengthen parts of your body throughout any of these systems, including your:

What are the risks of physical therapy?

Physical therapy is very safe and effective. Like with any physical activity, you’ll have a small injury risk — including aggravating an existing injury. Talk to your physical therapist about how to do all your exercises and movements safely — especially if you’re planning on doing physical therapy at home or without supervision between appointments.


Recovery and Outlook

Is physical therapy worth it?

It might not be easy (especially at first), but physical therapy is definitely worth it. You might feel stressed, tired or exhausted after a physical therapy session. These feelings are valid and normal. Your physical therapist will help you set realistic goals and expectations.

Your strength, flexibility and mobility will improve over time. You might feel like physical therapy isn’t working right away. But stick with it.

When To Call the Doctor

When should I see my healthcare provider?

Visit a healthcare provider if you notice new or worsening symptoms. Tell your physical therapist if any part of your physical therapy seems too hard or too easy. They can adjust your treatment plan as you make progress.


Additional Common Questions

What is the difference between physical therapy, orthopedic physical therapy and physiotherapy?

There’s no difference between physical therapy, orthopedic physical therapy and physiotherapy.

These are all different names for the same types of treatment. No matter what you call it, physical therapy can help you move better, safer and more confidently.

Providers and patients in the United States usually refer to physical therapy as the treatment and physical therapists as the providers who perform it. It’s more common to hear about physiotherapy and physiotherapists in countries outside the U.S. People who aren’t from the U.S. sometimes call physical therapy kinesiotherapy.

What is physical therapy vs. occupational therapy?

Physical therapy and occupational therapy both help you move your body better or more safely. The difference between them is their end goal.

People usually need physical therapy to manage symptoms of a health condition like pain and stiffness in a specific body part. It’s also common to need physical therapy while you’re rehabbing after an injury or surgery.

Occupational therapy is more focused on helping people improve their ability to do common daily tasks and live as independently as possible. The occupation in occupational therapy doesn’t necessarily mean your ability to do your job or get back to work after an injury. Occupational therapy is a general term providers use to mean any of the daily tasks you do. An occupational therapist will help you improve your ability to do tasks like use a computer, shop for groceries or get dressed.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Physical therapy is a common treatment for lots of injuries and health conditions. It’s also a common rehab step after surgeries. Whether you only need a few sessions after an injury or long-term help managing a chronic condition, physical therapy can improve your strength, flexibility and mobility.

Don’t forget to give yourself credit while you’re in physical therapy. It’s hard (sometimes sweaty) work to manage symptoms like pain, stiffness or instability. But it’s worth it. Don’t be afraid to ask your therapist questions before, during and after sessions. They’ll help you understand everything about physical therapy and how it can benefit you.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 03/07/2024.

Learn more about our editorial process.

Appointments 216.444.2606