A physical therapist is a health care professional who helps treat patients with varying degrees of physical or medical conditions. They diagnose patients and offer treatment and exercise therapy, managing their patients’ recovery plans with time and careful monitoring. There are five major specializations of physical therapists (PTs), which are outlined below.
Orthopedic Physical Therapy
This is the branch of physical therapy that most people immediately think of when asked about the occupation. These PTs focus specifically on making sure your orthopedic system is functioning at its highest ability. This can be done by differing exercises that isolate and strengthen the parts of your body that needs improvement. These PTs are whom people will see after an injury such as a tendon tear, joint issues, falls, or sports-related injuries. These therapists can work at many locations including acute care, sub-acute rehabilitation, and outpatient clinics.
Neurological Physical Therapy
This branch of PT focuses on the brain, spinal cord, and overall nervous system. Primarily, physical therapists who focus on neurological physical therapy will treat patients who have spinal cord injuries, recent stroke patients, brain injuries, Parkinson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis and more. This form of physical therapy is unique in that it can often be more difficult to isolate and treat neurological injuries. These PTs work in hospitals, specialized clinics, and research centers.
Geriatric Physical Therapy
Geriatric PTs focus on helping elderly patients with their physical health. These PTs may help with any ailment ranging from arthritis to Alzheimer’s. Most geriatric physical therapists work in nursing homes or outpatient facilities.
Pediatric Physical Therapy
Much like the above, pediatric PTs focus on a specific age group and the conditions surrounding patients of that age. They treat children starting at babies to young adults, with issues ranging from physical orthopedic conditions to genetic conditions. These therapists work in hospitals, outpatient treatment centers, and even schools.
Cardiopulmonary Physical Therapy
Cardiopulmonary physical therapists specialize in health issues related to the heart and lungs. These PTs work primarily in hospitals and outpatient clinics, assisting patients after cardiac and pulmonary events such as heart attacks, acute respiratory failure, cystic fibrosis, transplant surgery, and more.
Why become a Physical Therapist?
Physical therapists get to see a range of patients and help them optimize their physical health. It is a job that keeps you on your feet and active, though the type of work will vary depending on what type of practice you join and which area of focus you choose. If you’re interested in physical health, anatomy and physiology, exercise, problem-solving, and helping people, then physical therapy might be a good fit for you.
Though it varies from specialty to specialty, the median salary of a physical therapist as reported by US News is almost $88k and the occupation is voted #15 in the top 100 best jobs. If you’re interested in pursuing a career in PT, you will first have to study to obtain your doctoral degree in physical therapy. To learn more, look into volunteer or shadowing opportunities at a local hospital or clinic.