Although the goal of all physical therapy is to help people recover following illness, injury, and surgery, physical therapists and their assistants work with a highly diverse group of patients, including children, the elderly, individuals with brain disorders, and more. As a physical therapist assistant, you may work in a general practice clinic in which you have patients across all of these categories. But you may also work in a specialized clinic that provides comprehensive services in just one of these areas.
As part of your physical therapist assistant training, in addition to the core courses you may be able to choose from a variety of elective courses. Here are the top degree specializations offered by physical therapist assistant programs.
Acute care is the first type of care patients receive, for example, immediately following surgery. Physical therapist assistants in acute care facilities work closely with the patient’s doctor and other members of the medical team. They provide the initial physical therapy before the patient goes on to an outpatient clinic or rehabilitation center.
Geriatric physical therapy is a huge field and will continue to grow as the Baby Boomer generation ages. Physical therapist assistants who specialize in this area often work in nursing care facilities, providing therapy for patients with age-related conditions such as arthritis, knee and hip replacement, and osteoporosis.
Pediatric physical therapy focuses on illnesses and injuries in children. Physical therapist assistants who specialize in this area work with children who suffer from brain damage, developmental disorders, cerebral palsy, and other disorders.
Orthopedic physical therapy is involved in managing musculoskeletal disorders and helping people recover from orthopedic surgery. The most common job setting for orthopedic physical therapist assistants is a sports rehabilitation clinic, but they may also work in a post-operative joint clinic.
Physical therapist assistants who specialize in neurological physical therapy work with patients who suffer from brain disorders. One of the most common illnesses these assistants treat is stroke, but they may also work with patients who have Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or spinal cord injuries.
Cardiovascular and pulmonary
Cardiovascular and pulmonary physical therapy treats patients with heart disorders or who have undergone heart surgery.
Physical therapist assistants who specialize in women’s health provide care for problems related to childbirth, including pain, osteoporosis, and incontinence.
Not all physical therapist assistant schools provide courses in each of these specializations, but many have electives in geriatrics, pediatrics, and neurology. If you are interested in working in any of these areas, look for a degree program that offers related courses. You may also be able to do your clinical training in a clinic that specializes in the patient group you would like to work with. Contact an admissions or career services counselor at your school for more information.