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Physical Therapy Specialties

Explore a range of specialized areas in physical therapy, from orthopedics to sports medicine, enhancing patient care and career prospects in healthcare.

By Bernard Ramirez on Jun 26, 2024.

Fact Checked by Nate Lacson.

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Physical Therapy Specialties

What are Physical Therapy Specialties?

In physical therapy, specialties serve as dynamic avenues for practitioners to hone their expertise and cater to diverse patient needs. These specialized fields elevate the standards of care, ensuring tailored interventions for optimal outcomes. From neurologic rehabilitation, where therapists navigate the intricacies of brain and spinal cord injuries, to sports medicine, where they fine-tune athletes' performance and prevent injuries, each specialty embodies a unique fusion of skill and compassion. Orthopedic specialists adeptly address musculoskeletal issues, while pediatric physical therapists foster developmental milestones in our youngest patients. In women's health, experts who practice physical therapy  provide essential care throughout various life stages. Physical Therapy Specialties enrich the profession and affirm its commitment to personalized, holistic healing journeys.

Physical Therapy Specialties

Physical Therapy Specialties are the vibrant heartbeats of our profession, elevating patient care and professional growth to unprecedented heights. As a physical therapist, you can delve into diverse realms of expertise, amplifying your impact and igniting new career avenues, especially in some physical therapy programs. Physical therapy specialization isn't just about fine-tuning skills; it's about sculpting a niche where your passion converges with purpose.

The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties has ten certified specialty areas (University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences, 2020):

Cardiovascular and pulmonary clinical specialist

Cardiovascular and pulmonary specialists assist patients in managing and recovering from heart and lung conditions such as heart attacks, open-heart surgery, and respiratory diseases like COPD. Requirements include advanced cardiac life support certification and a prerequisite amount of patient care or completion of an American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) accredited residency.

Geriatric clinical specialist

Specialists in geriatrics focus on treating musculoskeletal conditions, progressive neurological diseases, and other ailments prevalent in aging populations, such as arthritis and Alzheimer's. Requirements involve a minimum of 2000 hours of direct patient care in geriatrics or completion of an APTA-accredited geriatrics residency.

Orthopaedic clinical specialist

Orthopaedic specialists address injuries and adverse conditions of bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints, including musculoskeletal disorders and post-surgical recovery. Eligibility criteria comprise 2000 hours of direct patient care in orthopaedics or completion of an APTA-accredited orthopaedic residency.

Neurology clinical specialist

Neurology specialists treat patients with neurological disorders, injuries, and impairments, typically in clinical settings such as hospitals and rehabilitation centers. Requirements include 2000 hours of direct patient care in neurology or completion of an APTA-accredited neurology residency.

Pediatric clinical specialist

Pediatric specialists treat physical conditions in young individuals, including cerebral palsy, autism, and cystic fibrosis. Eligibility involves 2000 hours of direct patient care in pediatrics or completion of an APTA-accredited pediatrics residency.

Oncology specialist

Oncology specialists aid patients undergoing cancer treatment or recovery, managing conditions such as chronic pain, weakness, or bone density loss. Requirements include 2000 hours of direct patient care in oncology or completion of an APTA-accredited oncology residency.

Women’s health specialist

Specialists in women’s health address conditions affecting women across various life stages, such as pregnancy and menopause. Eligibility criteria include 2000 hours of direct patient care in women’s health or completion of an APTA-accredited women’s health residency.

Electrophysiologic clinical specialist

Electrophysiologic clinical specialists treat nerve and muscle damage caused by compromised skin integrity or wounds. Requirements involve a list of relevant learning experiences, patient reports, and 2000 hours of direct patient care in electrophysiology or completion of an APTA-accredited clinical electrophysiology residency.

Sports clinical specialist

Sports clinical specialists manage injuries and rehabilitation for athletes, offering diverse career opportunities. Criteria include CPR certification, certification for Acute Management of Injury & Illness in sports medicine, and 2000 hours of direct patient care in sports, including 100 hours in an athletic venue or completion of an APTA-accredited sports residency.

Wound management specialist

This specialty, which recently became board-certifiable in 2022, focuses on treating superficial and deep wounds, emphasizing the relationships between body systems. Applicants must have 2,000 hours of direct patient care as a licensed US physical therapist within the last ten years. Alternatively, they must have successfully completed an APTA-accredited post-professional clinical residency within the last ten years. Applicants enrolled in an American Board of Physical Therapy Residency and Fellowship Education (ABPTRFE) accredited clinical residency or in a candidacy status program can apply for the examination.

Why pursue a physical therapy specialty?

Pursuing a physical therapy specialty offers a plethora of compelling reasons to elevate your career and profoundly impact lives. Specializing in a particular area allows you to deepen your expertise and cater to specific patient needs with precision and compassion.

First and foremost, specialization enhances your ability to provide tailored interventions, ensuring that each patient receives the highest standard of care. By honing your skills in a specialized field, cardiovascular rehabilitation or orthopedics, you become adept at addressing unique challenges and achieving optimal outcomes.

Moreover, specializing in a particular area opens doors to new career opportunities and advancement. As a specialist, you are recognized as a leader and mentor in your field, paving the way for leadership roles, research endeavors, and even teaching positions. Your expertise becomes a valuable asset not only to your patients but also to your professional community.

Beyond career prospects, specializing in physical therapy allows you to make a profound difference in people's lives. Whether you're helping individuals recover from debilitating injuries, manage chronic conditions, or enhance their athletic performance, your specialized knowledge empowers you to transform lives and restore hope.

What to consider when you want to pursue a specialization?

When contemplating the pursuit of specialization in physical therapy, various factors warrant careful consideration to ensure an informed decision aligning with professional goals and aspirations. Specializing within the realm of physical therapy presents a pivotal opportunity to delve deeper into a particular area of interest or patient population, thereby enhancing both the quality of care provided and career advancement prospects.

  1. Personal passion and professional interest: Reflect on your intrinsic interests and passions within physical therapy. Identifying areas that genuinely resonate with you, whether working with pediatric patients, specializing in orthopedic physical therapy, or focusing on rehabilitation for sports injuries, ensures sustained motivation and fulfillment in your chosen specialization. (APTA, n.d.)
  2. Patient population and clinical focus: Consider the patient population you are drawn to and envision yourself working with. Whether it's addressing chronic conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in geriatric patients, providing specialized care for women's health issues, or catering to athletes' needs in sports medicine, aligning your specialization with your preferred patient demographic enhances job satisfaction and efficacy.
  3. Career opportunities and demand: Research the demand and career prospects for different physical therapy specializations in your desired geographical location. Certain specialties, such as pediatric physical therapy or clinical electrophysiologic physical therapy, may offer niche opportunities or high demand in specific healthcare settings like rehabilitation centers or outpatient clinics.
  4. Education and training requirements: Assess each specialization's educational and training prerequisites, including any additional certifications or residency programs required for eligibility. Ensure that your chosen specialization aligns with your capacity to commit to the necessary educational pathways and ongoing professional development.
  5. Collaboration and networking opportunities: Consider the potential for collaboration and networking within your chosen specialization, including opportunities to connect with other physical therapists, specialists, and healthcare professionals. Building a strong professional network fosters collaboration, mentorship, and ongoing learning opportunities within your specialized field.

Why use Carepatron as your physical therapy software?

Carepatron is a leading provider of physical therapy software offering tools designed to streamline workflows, improve patient care, and optimize practice efficiency. Its robust functionality allows practitioners to manage patient appointments, documentation, billing, and scheduling in one centralized platform, saving time and reducing administrative burden.

Carepatron's practice management software empowers practitioners to deliver personalized care and improve patient outcomes. Its intuitive interface makes it easy to document treatment plans, progress notes, and assessments. The software also features built-in telehealth capabilities, allowing practitioners to connect with patients remotely and provide continuity of care.

Carepatron's commitment to customer satisfaction and support is evident through dedicated customer service teams and ongoing updates, fostering a collaborative partnership between the company and its users.

Carepatron is the premier choice for practitioners looking to streamline workflows, enhance patient care, and optimize practice efficiency, leading to improved outcomes and greater success in their practices.

Experience the difference with Carepatron today and discover how it can revolutionize your work. Schedule a demo now to unlock your practice's full potential.


University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences. (2020, April 1). 10 physical therapy specialties to boost your career.

American Physical Therapy Association. (n.d.). Becoming a physical therapist.

Commonly asked questions

Why should I pursue a specialization in physical therapy?

Pursuing a specialization allows you to deepen your knowledge and skills in a particular area, enhancing your ability to provide specialized care to patients and opening up new career opportunities.

How do I choose the right physical therapy specialty for me?

Consider your interests, career goals, and the patient population you are passionate about working with. Research different specialties, explore job prospects, and seek guidance from experienced professionals.

What are the requirements for becoming board-certified in a physical therapy specialty?

Requirements vary depending on the specialty but typically include obtaining licensure, completing a certain number of hours of direct patient care or residency, and passing a specialty exam.

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