Types of Physical Therapy Specialities

There are many specialty areas in the field of physical therapy. Although this is well known throughout the profession, it is often overlooked by the general public. Below is a brief description of the five most common specialty areas in physical therapy. Read on to find out what specialty area is most appropriate for you or your family member.

Boy in a wheelchair learning in physical therapy
 Fatihhoca / E+ / Getty Images

Orthopedic Physical Therapy

Orthopedic physical therapists diagnose, manage and treat disorders and injuries of the musculoskeletal system. They also help people recover from orthopedic surgery. This specialty of physical therapy is most often found in the out-patient clinical setting. Orthopedic therapists are trained in the treatment of post-operative joints, sports injuries, arthritis, and amputations, among other injuries and conditions. Joint mobilizations, strength training, hot packs and cold packs, and electrical stimulation are often used to speed recovery in the orthopedic setting. Those who have suffered injury or disease affecting the muscles, bones, ligaments or tendons of the body may benefit from assessment by a physical therapist specialized in orthopedics. Typical injuries treated by orthopedic PTs may include:

  • Fractures
  • Sprains
  • Tendonitis
  • Bursitis

An orthopedic physical therapist can prescribe the right exercises for your specific condition affecting your bones, muscles, or joints.

Geriatric Physical Therapy

Geriatric physical therapy covers numerous issues concerning people as they go through normal adult aging. These include (but are not limited to) arthritis, osteoporosis, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, hip and joint replacement, balance disorders, and incontinence. They may also be involved in cardiac rehab or neurological physical therapy. Geriatric physical therapists develop individualized programs to help restore mobility, reduce pain and increase fitness.

Neurological Physical Therapy

Neurological physical therapists work with individuals who have a neurological disorder or disease. These include Alzheimer's disease, ALS, brain injury, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injury, and stroke. Common problems of patients with neurological disorders include paralysis, vision impairment, poor balance, difficulty walking and loss of independence. Therapists work with patients to improve these areas of dysfunction.

Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation

Cardiovascular and pulmonary rehabilitation physical therapists treat a wide variety of people with cardiopulmonary disorders as well as those who have had cardiac or pulmonary surgery. Primary goals of this specialty include increasing patient endurance and functional independence. If you have had a heart attack, you may work with a cardio/pulm PT specialist in your cardiac rehab program.

Pediatric Physical Therapy

Pediatric physical therapy assists in early detection of health problems as well as the diagnosis, treatment, and management of infants, children, and adolescents with a variety of injuries, disorders, and diseases that affect the muscles, bones, and joints. Treatments focus on improving gross and fine motor skills, balance and coordination, strength and endurance as well as cognitive and sensory processing and integration. Children with developmental delays, cerebral palsy, spina bifida and torticollis are a few of the patients treated by pediatric physical therapists.​

You can find all of the 18 specialties of PT by visiting the website for the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). By finding a specialist for your condition, you can be sure to get the best care possible for you.

A Word From Verywell

If you have an illness or injury that results in limited functional mobility, you may benefit from a PT to help you recover. When looking for a physical therapist, consider finding a specialist for your condition. That way, you are sure to receive the best possible care possible and quickly return to your previous level of activity and function.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. College of St. Scholastica. 9 physical therapy specialities to pursue in your career.

  2. The Performance Health Centre. Physical therapy.

  3. Academy of Geriatric Physical Therapy. About AGPT: mission.

  4. Academy of Neurologic Physical Therapy. What is a neurologic physical therapist?

  5. Deturk WE, Scott LB. Physical therapists as providers of care: exercise prescriptions and resultant outcomes in cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation programs in new york stateCardiopulm Phys Ther J. 2008;19(2):35–43.

  6. Pathways.org. What is a pediatric physical therapist?

By Laura Inverarity, DO
 Laura Inverarity, PT, DO, is a current board-certified anesthesiologist and former physical therapist.