A physical therapy or sports medicine specialty is the attempt to rehabilitate a physical problem, usually after a certain medical diagnosis. The cause of the problem may be injury, illness, surgery or disease. Physical therapists work with patients suffering from various types of physical limitations. Physical therapists also collaborate with sports medicine specialists and other health care providers to design and implement therapeutic exercise programs for patients with injuries. Some physical therapy specialties require additional education such as a master’s degree.
A physical therapy specialist develops a specialized program for a patient. This plan is dependent upon the needs of the patient and the severity of the problem. Different programs are designed for different age groups, health status, and body structures. Usually physical therapy specialists have a background in an area of health care like medicine, nursing, osteopathy, physical sciences or rehabilitation. Other physical therapy specialists are psychologists, chiropractors, physical therapists, athletic trainers and athletic training instructors.
Physical therapy specialists often participate in a year of training before they begin working with patients. During the year of training, physical therapy specialists develop skills in assessment, diagnosis, treatment planning, supervision and implementation of the assigned exercises and rehabilitation programs. Some physical therapy specialists attend classes on prevention and further knowledge of the disorders and diseases that can affect the musculoskeletal system. Other physical therapy specialists acquire specialized knowledge through certification courses. These courses are offered by hospitals, colleges and other institutions.
Physical therapy specialists can obtain a license to practice from the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). To be certified, physical therapy specialists must take a written exam, pass a background examination and pass the state board certification examination. All certified physical therapists must be involved in direct patient care activities. Physical therapist are also required to have a specific scope of practice that includes treating adults, children, patients with obesity, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and pregnancy. Physical therapy is an area of specialization that requires a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, although many physical therapy specialists attain their master’s degrees as well.
The requirements for certification from the APTA are very rigorous. Only graduates of programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) are considered for licensing. Physical therapists who successfully complete a certified program are required to take an examination administered by the state board to verify that they have met the requirements of their states. Physical therapy specialists who successfully obtain their licenses are required to take continuing education courses every two years.
As a professional specialty, physical therapy has a variety of subspecialties including orthopedic, geriatric, neurological, cardiovascular, sports management and pulmonary medicine. Orthopedic physical therapy often involves treating traumatic spinal injuries, such as herniated discs, which can result in severe pain and discomfort. Geriatric and neurological physical therapy often focuses on issues unique to elderly patients. Cardiovascular physical therapy is devoted to preventing heart diseases, such as atherosclerosis, which can lead to heart failure. Sports management physical therapy usually deals with treating athletes, such as athletes competing in high-level contact sports.