The Many Practices of Physical Therapy
There are many different practice areas and types of jobs that physical therapists can work in. From private practice clinics, to sub-acute rehab, to elderly/nursing care, geriatric PT, cardiovascular PT, to on-site corporate PTs, to government service providers, to researchers, to traveling PTAs, I think you get the point..
Whether it is a niche type of therapy for particular health issues and diseases, such as cardiovascular conditions, or a niche field that PTs serve in such, such as home health care, there are literally hundreds of different job scenarios and PT practice areas that physical therapists and their assistants work in.
A physical therapist will have an intensive background in sciences that focus on not only physics but also anatomy, physiology, kinesiology and biomechanics. By learning these sciences they will be able to help restore mobility to patients and improve their lives in many different ways.
This article will summarize the descriptions of some of the many physical therapy jobs across a number of fields that a physical therapist or PTA might work in.
Physical Therapy & The Areas Of Treatment
There are many applications of physical therapy within almost any medical niche. Physical therapy studies have shown that physical therapy can help with many different diseases and conditions ranging from things like diabetes, cancer, sports injury, neurological conditions, to heart conditions and more.
In this article we will share some of the more prominent physical therapy practice areas. There are many many more areas that physical therapists are working outside of these, but these are some of the primary medical niches that physical therapists are working in currently.
Acute Care Physical Therapy
Here the physical therapist may provide skilled programs for those who are suffering form an acute health issue. These issues may cause limited mobility, loss of abilities, skin conditions and more. While most of the patients who are in the hospital are those with developmental issues (including children) it may also be due to an accident, injury or an illness. Acute care therapists are expert at evaluating and treating those who are suffering from any medically complex issues. They may also work in an emergency room or in intensive care or a group home. In a few cases they may also work for a hospice program and patients residence. They may be in a caregivers home or even in a community setting.
Here are but a few of the many health issues that physical therapists can help treat:
- Joint replacements (total)
- Broken bones (fractures)
- Multiple traumas
- Stroke injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
- Balance issues or fall risks
- Debility due to cancer
- Surgical procedures
- Medical issues
- Acute infections and wound care after a burn or another injury
- Cardiovascular or pulmonary conditions
- Transplants (both before and after)
Checkout this video created by physical therapy students at the University of Delaware. It provides an overview of the critical steps for caring for patients in an acute care setting.
Physical Therapy & Aquatic Treatments
Water has wonderful properties that make it unique for many different types of physical therapy. The natural buoyancy of water provides support for the body and allows patients with a wide range of problems to get rehabilitation that otherwise might be impossible. Patients with musculoskeletal conditions, integumentary conditions, cardiopulmonary and neuromuscular conditions, no matter the age, can all benefit from aquatic therapy.
The following video explains some of the benefits of Aquatic Physical Therapy as well as shows some examples of PTs and their patients performing aquatic physical therapy techniques.
Geriatrics, Cardiovascular & Pulmonary Physical Therapy
Patients in any age range who suffer from cardiovascular and pulmonary conditions can greatly benefit from physical therapy designed specifically for them. This type of therapy can help maintain health and wellness as well as rehabilitation. It can also help with preventative treatment that can help improve future health. There are many different cardiovascular and pulmonary physical therapy options available to those suffering from those conditions.
One age group that cardiovascular and pulmonary physical therapists often treat is the geriatric group. This patient group is especially susceptible to the problems related to heart conditions. Geriatric physical therapy often focuses on living a more productive and mobile life while dealing with the issues that occur with aging.
In this video, Tim Wagner, DPT explains some of the benefits as well as challenges to performing geriatric physical therapy in a skilled nursing facility.
Home Health & Physical Therapy
Geriatric physical therapy can include things like home health. Home health PT services happen in the patient’s home. Home care can even be provided if the patient’s home is inside a nursing home facility, group home, a care giver’s home or even in the hospital. Most patients receiving home health care are older there are occasions where it is need for pediatrics or younger adults. Home health PT may be applied when a younger patient would prefer to do their therapy at home or may require that they stay home while they heal and perform rehab.
Tamra Tedlund is a Home Health PT. In this video she describes Home Health Physical Therapy and what her day to day looks like.
Neurology & Physical Therapy
When an injury occurs to the nervous system, or a neurological disease occurs, neurologic physical therapy can be of great benefit. After evaluation treatment plans can help improve the neurologic function and the ability of the patient to once again participate in daily activities. Neurological physical therapy can do a great deal to help patients, of any age range, regain personal roles in their life that may have been affected by the injury or disease. This type of physical therapy can be offered as in home care, acute care hospitals, any type of rehab center, nursing homes and outpatient clinics. For pediatric patients the neurologic physical therapist may even come to the local school.
BalanceRehab.net shares some good insight into Neurological Physical Therapy in this short video.
Oncology & Physical Therapy
Patients suffering from, or recovering from, various types of cancer can be provided expert oncology physical therapy. This therapy is often started at the beginning of the cancer diagnosis and will often be continued throughout treatment and recovery. Provided for all ages, it can be offered in rehabilitation hospitals, acute care hospitals, nursing homes or in the patient’s home. Health and wellness centers often provide physical therapy to cancer patients as well. The main benefits can be helping the patient maintain their strength and flexibility, regain lost strength and maintain the ability to function as needed.
In this detailed video, Josie Sweeney, DPT explains in depth what Oncology Physical Therapy is and how Physical Therapy can be applied to help heal cancer patients battling various forms of cancer.
Orthopedics & Physical Therapy
Orthopedic physical therapy involves the treatment of those with musculoskeletal disorders, injuries or dysfunctions. The therapist can help not only with the diagnosis and management of problems but can also help prevent musculoskeletal disorders. Skilled orthopedic therapist can provide assessments that will allow for a treat plan that can improve movement, decrease pain and improve daily activity. This is done in a variety of settings including the home, health facilities, sports clinics and even on industrial sites. Treatment includes education the patient, therapeutic exercise as well as manual therapy.
In this video, The PT Channel gives some insight into the job of an Orthopedic Physical Therapist.
Pediatrics & Physical Therapy
A pediatric patient is one that is no older than 21 years of age. Pediatric physical therapists provide treatment and many different services to children. They specialize in dealing with developmental disabilities and can provide therapy for many different conditions and injuries that affect children. Not only do these therapists provide services to the patient but play a very important role of support to the family.
Pediatric PT services can be rendered in hospitals, clinics, homes and a school setting. The goal of pediatric physical therapy is to enhance the patient’s ability to participate in everyday activities, help with the improvement of endurance and strength, develop independence and provide learning opportunities to the patient. Things like motor skills are focused on with the end goal being less need for daily caregiving. Prevention is another goal of pediatric physical therapy through education and working with children and families of all fitness levels.
Watch this video, by MoveForwardPT, for a good overview of Pediatric Physical Therapy.
Sports & Physical Therapy
There is a real need for those specializing in the area of sports physical therapy. Sports injuries, and the prevention of such, requires expert training in the areas of not only rehabilitation nut in evaluating and designing individualized treatment plans. Treatments often mean helping the patient to get back to the level of ability they had before the injury. The goal is to keep the sports minded person able to participate in physical sporting activities at the level they enjoy.
The following video was created by IU Health Sports Physical Therapists. The video explains their comprehensive approach to treating athletes with physical therapy.
Women & Physical Therapy
Women are going to experience different problems with health in areas such as musculoskeletal disorders throughout their life. Depending on the stage of the women’s life physical therapy treatment may vary. Women have unique pelvic issues that often require a physical therapist who specializes in women’s health. While women are obviously going to make up the majority of patients seen buy specialized physical therapists men with pelvic issues such as incontinence can also benefit from this type of physical therapy.
This video by Norton Women’s Care shows many of the pelvic physical therapy exercises that women experiencing pelvic health issues will perform with a pelvic physical therapist.
Other Physical Therapy Practice Areas
There you have it, the primary practice areas within physical therapy. But there are many more niches that physical therapists are identifying and assisting patients in. Physical therapy is one medical treatment that has many many applications and can help heal almost any condition. Do you know some other medical niches that physical therapy is being used in?
Tell us all about some other physical therapy practice areas in the comments below! 🙂
P.S. – Don’t forget to use our awesome job search tool to find a physical therapy or physical therapist assistant job in one of these great practice areas!