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Just like in other fields of study, physical therapy also has specialty areas that branch out from the general field.   The five most common specialty areas are orthopedic, geriatric, neurological, cardiovascular and pulmonary rehabilitation, and pediatric therapy.

Orthopedic physical therapists focus on treating disorders and injuries of the musculoskeletal system.  They rehabilitate patients after orthopedic surgery.  These specialists treat postoperative joints, acute sports injuries, arthritis, and amputations among others.  In order to hasten the recovery, they make the patients undergo joint mobilizations, strength training, hot and cold packs, and electrical stimulation.  Orthopedic physical therapists are also the specialists to consult for injuries and diseases affecting the muscles, bones, ligaments, or tendons of the body.

Geriatric physical therapists focus on caring for the older adult as they go through normal adult aging.  As people age, they are prone to many conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, hip and joint replacement, balance disorders, incontinence, and more.  This type of therapy aims to restore mobility, reduce pain, and increase fitness levels.

Neurological physical therapists focus on individuals with neurological disorder or disease such as Alzheimer’s disease, ALS, brain injury, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury, and stroke.  Patients with neurological disorders experience one or more of the following: paralysis, vision impairment, poor balance, inability to ambulate, and loss of functional independence.  These problems are what neurological physical therapists target.

Cardiopulmonary and pulmonary rehabilitation therapists treat patients with cardiopulmonary disorders such as heart attacks, post coronary bypass surgery, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and pulmonary fibrosis.  Patients with cystic fibrosis have to undergo manual therapy to clear the lung secretions.  Moreover, patients that had cardiac or pulmonary surgery will benefit from this form of therapy.  The goal of this specialty area is to increase the patient’s endurance and functional independence.

Pediatric physical therapists focus on the early detection of health problems of infants, children, and adolescents.  They use different modalities to treat disorders that are congenital, developmental, neuromuscular, skeletal, or any acquired disorder or disease.  Some of the disorders that require this form of therapy are cerebral palsy, spina bifida, torticollis, and developmental delays.  The treatment plans are geared on improving the patient’s gross and fine motor skills, balance and coordination, strength and endurance, as well as cognitive and sensory processing or integration.

As you may have noticed, these different physical therapy specialty areas do not have a clear delineation of responsibilities.  For instance, those patients with Alzheimer’s disease can seek help from either a geriatric physical therapist or a neurological physical therapist.

Knowing the difference between these five types of physical therapy will greatly help a lot of people, if not for themselves for their loved ones.  They can assist their loved ones in searching for the best therapist for the condition to be treated.  There will be peace of mind knowing that the treatment being developed is the right one.

As a result, better results can be expected and the time spent undergoing physical therapy can be shortened.


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