Top physical therapy specialties and certifications

Physical therapy specialties, specialties in physical therapy, physical therapy certifications, specialized physical therapy, pt specialties, physical therapist specialties, physical therapy specialists, pt specialists, specialization in physical therapy
Physical therapy specialties

Physical therapy specialties and physical therapy certifications are familiar to most therapists with the specialist certifications conferred by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS). The ABPTS coordinates and oversees the specialist certification and recertification process of clinical specialists. According to the ABPTS, the goals of the specialist certification process include “promot[ing] the highest possible level of care for individuals seeking physical therapist services in each specialty area and provid[ing] a reliable and valid method for certification and recertification of individuals who have attained an advanced level of knowledge and skill in each specialty area.”

As of June 2023, 37,754 therapists have earned a physical therapy certification in one or more of the following 10 physical therapy specialties:


Orthopedics has the highest number of board-certified clinical specialists followed by Neurology, Geriatrics, and Sports. The process of attaining a board certification in any of the ten areas listed above is outlined on the APTBS website but requirements for all physical therapy specialties include both a specified number of experiential hours in the desired specialty area and a period of self-study which culminates in an examination that tests the breadth and depth of knowledge related to that area of practice. Participation in a residency is not mandatory but completion of an APTA-accredited post-professional clinical residency does qualify a therapist to sit for the examination.

Also of note, several physical therapy specialties have additional requirements for certification. 
  • Some specialties require that you have a current CPR certification. 

  • The Sports specialization asks that an applicant submit evidence of current knowledge in national First Responder standards and Emergency Cardiovascular Care (ECC) guidelines with their application.

  • The Clinical Electrophysiology specialization requires the submission of three patient reports

  • Wound Management requires the submission of a case report. 

Be sure to read the requirements for application for your desired physical therapy specialties carefully before applying to sit for the exam.

Though the APTA physical therapy specialty certifications are perhaps the most well-known advanced proficiency pathways available to therapists, there are many different certifications available to practitioners looking to enhance their expertise and skills.

Physical therapy assistant advanced proficiency pathways

Not unlike the specialty certifications for physical therapists, physical therapy assistants (PTAs) can now participate in PTA Advanced Proficiency Pathways sponsored by the American Physical Therapy Association in the following areas of practice:

  • Acute care
  • Cardiovascular/pulmonary
  • Geriatrics
  • Oncology
  • Orthopedics
  • Pediatrics
  • Wound management
  • Neurology

Program recognition for the completion of one of these pathways lasts for 10 years and is intended to assist PTAs in gaining advanced proficiency and skill in a specific practice environment. To participate, the therapist must be licensed and be a member of the APTA. Requirements for enrollment and completion can be found on the APTA website.

This process entails the completion of continuing education courses, the designation of a supervising physical therapist who will agree to oversee the process, provide mentoring hours and selected clinical experiences, and provide the therapist with professional support. Also required is a selection of a clinical mentor to guide the therapist through the clinical education component. The therapist has up to 5 years to complete the program.

Certification in lifestyle medicine practice

While the majority of the healthcare system may be structured to perform disease management, with a Certification in Lifestyle Medicine, a physical therapist can stand out as a subject matter expert who, using health behavior coaching, can decrease healthcare spending for both employers and patients, improve overall health outcomes, and promote patient autonomy and motivation for sustainable, lifelong behavior change.

For a PT looking to diversify their practice and effect even greater change in their patients’ lives, the Certification in Lifestyle Medicine Practice conferred by the American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM) is a great option. This online certification indicates professional mastery in the evidenced-based science of preventing, treating, and reversing chronic disease.

Master’s and Doctorate-level physical therapists are eligible for certification as an ACLM Lifestyle Medicine Professional. They must complete a minimum of 30 hours of Lifestyle Medicine online continuing education, attend at least 10 hours of in-person clinical education at a lifestyle medicine-oriented conference, and pass a rigorous exam.

Manual physical therapy, pain specialist, and therapeutic modalities certifications

There is nothing more powerful, one might say, than therapeutic touch. Manual therapy techniques are an important component of many therapists’ practice and they will often spend years building this skillset. Certifications in manual therapy provide advanced education and practice in a specific methodology of manual therapy and can make a therapist more marketable to employers but also more effective as a practitioner.

While this is certainly not an exhaustive list, these highly acclaimed manual therapy certification programs are examples of those available to a therapist wanting to enhance their skills:

Pain science certifications

Pain science is an ever-evolving field and one that is highly relevant to a physical therapist’s practice. Oftentimes, patients come to a clinic hoping to seek relief from pain and mastering an evidenced-based approach to implementing pain science principles is an excellent way to achieve better outcomes.

There are several pain science certification programs to choose from but here are a few examples you can look at:

Hand therapy certification

The complex network of muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, and fascia that exist in the hand, wrist and forearm work together in incredible harmony to provide the strength and dexterity of the hands and fingers. A Certified Hand Therapist (CHT) is a physical or occupational therapist who has at least 3 years and 4,000 hours of direct practice in hand therapy and has successfully passed a comprehensive test of clinical skills and theory in upper quarter rehabilitation.

The certification in hand therapy assures both physicians and patients that their physical therapist has achieved the maximal level of competency in understanding the complex anatomy of the hand and upper quarter and in the delicate surgical techniques and rehabilitation protocols necessary to restore full function to one our body’s most valuable tools.

Modern management of the older adult

Underdosing of older adults is a common issue amongst physical therapists and the Institute of Clinical Education’s Modern Management of the Older Adult certification program aims to combat this problem. Two online, eight-week courses and a live 2-day course will prepare you to evaluate and assess older adults, develop proper programming and progression, master application of the squat, deadlift, loaded carries, floor transfer, and much more. Therapists will learn how to properly dose therapy interventions for older adults while taking into consideration psychosocial considerations unique to older adults as well as comorbidities. This evidence-based course will help you take your treatment of older adults to the next level.

Pelvic health rehab certification

The pelvic floor is an oft-overlooked contributor to movement and pain dysfunction. PTs are often introduced to the area of practice while in school but due to the intimate nature of many practices involved in pelvic floor rehabilitation, will have to seek out continuing education classes later on to build their confidence and proficiency in this area.

For those therapists interested in adding pelvic floor assessment and treatment to their practice, a certification in pelvic floor rehab is an excellent way to demonstrate expertise in treating patients of all genders throughout the life cycle. Both Herman and Wallace and Evidence in Motion provide certifications in pelvic health.


Physical therapists can also use teletherapy for the intake process as well as follow-up care. Various tools such as 3-D models, images or videos may be shared with clients through a secure video conferencing tool to explain common injuries. TheraPlatform offers free teletherapy courses for therapists in many industries.

Sign up for Your Free Teletherapy E-Course

Benefits to post-professional physical therapy certifications

Physical therapists graduate with a general education in physical therapy practice. In school they learn how to treat a wide breadth of patients and how to work in many different environments so upon graduation, they are qualified to begin working in almost any setting. It is through practice, certifications, and continuing education that physical therapists hone their expertise and attain a higher level of skill and knowledge.

If you are wondering whether physical therapy specialties or certification are the right choice for you, this list of pros and cons may help you make your decision:      


  • Attain a level of expertise in a particular area of practice or treatment modality that will improve your patient care skills

  • Enhance confidence that you are providing the highest level of care possible

  • Allow you to work at an academic institute as an adjunct or associate faculty member (APTA physical therapy board specialist certifications)

  • Learn about the latest research-based evidence related to the area of certification

  • Gain the skills needed to transition to a different practice environment

  • Gain expertise that will allow you to mentor other therapists or teach continuing education courses

  • Address burnout by learning about a new topic

  • May increase a patient’s level of trust in your ability to care for them


  • All physical therapy specialties have costs associated with them which may be relatively low or quite high. This includes the cost of enrolling in the program, travel to onsite locations, and the price of sitting for an exam

  • Time spent learning and studying materials for a certification program must often be done outside of working hours

  • The attainment of certification may or may not confer an increase in salary or pay earned by a therapist

  • Many of these certifications have strict requirements of ongoing practice and learning to maintain the certification. This may include intermittent fees.

Start 30-day Free Trial and explore TheraPlatform. HIPAA Compliant Video and Practice Management Software for Therapists.

Weighing these pros and cons is an important step in deciding whether to enroll in a certification program. If you are still unsure of your decision or hoping to learn more about a given program, most certification programs maintain a list of professionals that have attained and maintained their certifications. Reaching out to therapists who have attained physical therapy specialties and certifications in which you are interested, can allow you to learn more about the process of enrolling, the details of the program, and how they feel that certification has enhanced their practice.

Lifelong learning is the goal

In physical therapy school we learn the most current research in physical therapy practice, but like all research, it is meant to grow and evolve. What science may have deemed the best thing to do at one point may evolve and change later on. Staying apprised of the latest evidence-based practice is an important way that each therapist can ensure they are providing the highest level of patient care. Certifications including the physical therapy specialist certifications, physical therapy assistance advanced proficiency pathways, and certifications in topics like manual therapy, pain science, or Lifestyle Medicine expose therapists to the latest trends in research and remind them of the importance of regularly reading journals and research studies, attending conferences and developing hypotheses in their practice.

For those who choose to leap, new physical therapies specialties and certifications can help you feel confident that you have attained a mastery level of practice while you start applying those new skills right away. The profession of physical therapy is trending toward more and more specialization as we recognize how patient outcomes are improved when therapists can reach a level of expertise and mastery in their field. Don’t let the fear of not knowing enough stop you from stepping into a new area of practice that might stoke your enthusiasm and allow you to help even more patients.


As you grow your practice using the skills you’ve learned in the physical therapy specialties, TheraPlatform, an all-in-one EHR/EMR, practice management, and teletherapy tool, can help you simplify the operations of your practice. They also offer a free, 30-day trial with no credit card required. Cancel anytime.

More resources 

Free video classes

Practice Management, EHR/EMR and Teletherapy Platform

Exclusive therapy apps and games

Start 30 Day FREE TRIAL
Physical therapy SOAP note, SOAP note template, SOAP note example, SOAP note PDF, SOAP note download
Physical therapy SOAP note

Physical therapy SOAP notes are a thorough and organized way of documenting patient progress. In this blog you will not only become more clear on the components of each section of the SOAP note but also learn about other things you should always include to ensure your documentation is not incomplete.

Top Occupational Therapist Certifications, occupational therapist certifications, therapy certifications, ot certifications, occupational therapist certifications 2021, 2021 therapy certifications, ot specializations
Top occupational therapist certifications of 2021

Top Occupational Therapist Certifications of 2021 | Pursuing a certification can broaden your skillset, allow you to offer the latest evidence-based interventions, provide top-notch client education and help you stand out from other providers.

Subscribe to our newsletter