Skills for Physical Therapists: 10 Skills Every PT Should Develop

Discover the top skills for physical therapists and learn why they’re crucial for every PT. Enhance your expertise in the field.

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Skills for Physical Therapists: 10 Skills Every PT Should Develop

To successfully provide physical therapy services, you must possess a handful of skills to provide excellent patient care.

Physical therapist skills include soft skills, like compassion and communication, and hard skills, like technical skills and continuing education.

This post shares the top skills related to physical therapy and how they will help our readers become more successful physical therapists. We aim to highlight the valuable skills for physical therapist programs and how you can develop these throughout your education and as you begin your career as a physical therapist.

Main Takeaways From This Article:

  • Both hard and soft skills are critical for physical therapists, with a combination of compassion, communication, technical skills, and continuous learning proving most effective.
  • Key hard skills for physical therapists include understanding human anatomy, creating treatment plans, maintaining technical skills to adapt to changing techniques and software, physical stamina, knowledge of physical therapy equipment, and competence with physical therapy software.
  • Important soft skills include effective communication (both verbal and written), critical thinking to modify treatment plans as needed, compassion to empathize with patients, strong time management to balance multiple responsibilities, and a detail-oriented mindset to monitor progress and identify minor issues.
  • To stay relevant and effective in their profession, physical therapists need to continually nurture and develop their skills, including embracing continuing education and new research.

Top Five Hard Skills for Physical Therapists

Hard skills are learned abilities that can be acquired and developed to succeed in particular roles. For physical therapists, these hard skills are the ones that will make them the most valuable in their position to ensure patient progress. Some of the hard skills required as a physical therapist include:

  • The knowledge of human anatomy
  • Creating treatment plans
  • Maintaining their technical skills as software and techniques change

1. Physical Stamina

Most physical therapists support their patient's progress and healing through intense physical activity, from performing massages, preparing equipment, stretching, and many other activities during a session. Physical therapists need strength and endurance to adequately assist every patient they see daily, ranging from 10 to 16.

2. Knowledge of Physical Therapy Equipment

From strength-building tools to exercise balls, balance pads, electrotherapy, and hydrotherapy, the knowledge and skills to safely use physical therapy equipment for therapeutic exercises are critical for all physical therapists, whether you're just entering the field or are a seasoned professional. Properly administering all equipment and treatments is one of the most essential parts of a physical therapist's job, regardless of the severity of the patient's injury.

3. Physical Therapy Software

To efficiently run a physical therapy practice, utilizing modern software to boost productivity is a wise choice for physical therapists, their staff, and their patients. Managing schedules, billing, properly documenting patient progress, ensuring compliance, working with insurance, using physical therapy software, and maintaining technical skills are essential for running a practice. This kind of software makes the experience for everyone—patients, providers, and insurance companies—seamless and streamlined.

4. Human Anatomy

To provide the best treatment plan to improve patient mobility, physical therapists must maintain a comprehensive understanding of the human body and how various treatments and procedures can benefit or harm the body in different ways. Many physical therapists choose to implement evidence-based research into a physical therapy program to provide new movements to restore function in the body.

5. Observation and Diagnosis

As a skilled physical therapist, interacting with and evaluating patients to diagnose issues quickly is one of the most influential hard skills needed to run a successful physical therapist program. Most therapists excel at observing their patients, providing feedback on their form, identifying which movements are too difficult, and providing a clear treatment plan to achieve adequate progress.

Top Five Soft Skills for Physical Therapists

Soft skills are important skills needed for nearly every profession that interacts with people. These include time management skills, problem-solving, leadership, and compassion. A physical therapist needs particular soft skills to build rapport and trust with their patients and, ultimately, have a successful career.

1. Communication Skills

Providing excellent patient care means possessing the skills to make every patient feel seen and heard. Physical therapists must listen and understand their clients and adequately explain treatments, stretches, and movements in long-term and acute care. Another valuable skill is taking complicated medical terminology and translating it into layman's terms. Communication skills encompass verbal and written; whether you're creating online courses for your patients to complete at home or providing instructions on stretching techniques, written communication is just as important as verbal communication.

2. Critical Thinking

When providing patient care, physical therapists must be able to think critically and problem-solve when existing routines and treatments aren't working for patients. This includes offering practical tips and adjustments as needed, making recommendations on form, and knowing when pivoting or modifying a treatment area is crucial for the injury.

3. Compassion

Physical therapists can have all the technology skills in the world, but without compassion, their patients will never feel fully understood. Interacting with clients who are frustrated and in pain is part of the job, and compassion is essential in patient care. Several patients may feel overwhelmed or discouraged, and it is the physical therapist's job to motivate and encourage them to keep trying with a positive attitude, even when things seem dismal.

4. Time Management

Physical therapists must have strong time management skills to offer effective patient care, especially when treating multiple patients daily. Time management includes the proper documentation of every patient they see, working with other medical professionals to offer complete care for each patient, and even prioritizing continuing education to provide the latest research-based treatments. Some clients, like professional athletes, may require extended sessions or additional therapy, which must be accounted for when managing a schedule.

5. Detail Oriented Mindset

Being detail-oriented is one of the most valuable physical therapist skills you can acquire. From catching minor issues, remembering significant patient details, monitoring patient progress, and observing their clients during movements, having detail-oriented skills allows a physical therapist to better diagnose and treat clients.

Bottom Line: Physical Therapist Skills Must Grow Over Time

The hard and soft skills needed to be a successful physical therapist require nurturing and consistency. Some physical therapy skills are timeless, while others need continuing education, particularly as new research and tools are available. Other physical therapist skills come with practice, like developing physical stamina and improving communication skills over time.

Many physical therapists need support and reliable resources when managing their practice, and that's where MWTherapy comes in. We take care of your practice's operations so you can focus on cultivating and improving your skills to become a better physical therapist. Our all-in-one PT practice management platform is fully customizable and cloud-based. Book a demo here.

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