Physical Therapists Do What?

Felicia Stephens
October 14, 2018

You can go the APTA website to learn about what physical therapists do and to find out their typical job descriptions.


Many people may not know about the interesting and outside of the box roles that physical therapists (PTs) can play in the lives of their patients. If you think that all PTs do is massage and exercise their patients, then your mind will be reset today. If you think we only work with athletes that have injuries, you will have a new appreciation and awareness of this field.

Please read about 5 areas and specialities that physical therapist work in very unique and amazing ways.

Check out these 5 areas and specialties that physical therapists work in very unique and amazing ways.

1. Hippo-therapy

When I was a physical therapy student, my eyes were opened to the wonderful world of hippotherapy.  I was able to see patients that I witnessed crying during their therapy sessions in the clinic, laughing and jovial while doing therapy on a horse.  This is truly an amazing way of rehabilitating the whole person not just their physical impairments

The term hippo-therapy refers to how therapists can use clinical skills and reasoning in the purposeful manipulation of equine (horse) movement to engage multiple body systems to achieve functional improvements. It is therapy on a horse and it can be a part of the patients plan of care.

For more information on this area of expertise check out the American Hippotherapy Association.

2. Wound Management

Did you know this? Yes, physical therapists treat wounds, burns, etc.  In the fourth year of my career I had the awesome opportunity to get experience in wound care in one of the top level one trauma hospitals in the country.  I was amazed at all of the skills that I needed to learn to be able to treat patients with wounds.  I was equally as astonished by the different ways that people could obtain wounds.  This job is not for the faint in stomach.  It requires you to roll up your sleeves and work skillfully to heal someone in an breathtaking way.Physical therapists, through continuing education coursework and experience, can become specialist in treating wounds and other skin condition that can cause severe deformity, pain and loss of function.For more information on the PT’s role in wound management check out APTA Profiles.

3. Women’s Health

There are thousands of physical therapists (predominately women) that specialize in treating women with abdominal and pelvic health issues.  These therapist use creative and minimally invasive interventions to treat problems that can be embarrassing, devastating, and devitalizing to day to day functioning.

Physical therapy practitioners treat patients with abdominal and pelvic health problems across the life span, from young athletes and childbearing women to elderly men and peri-menopausal women.

For more information on this specialty check out the APTA Women’s Health Section.

4. Neurology

When people think of physical therapy, they usually think of physical orthopedic injuries being rehabilitated.  This may be the case; however, there are many therapist that are experts and specialists in treating patients with neurological disorders that originate in the brain and central nervous system.  This just so happens to be MY are of expertise.

This area of expertise focuses on the physical therapist providing care for patients with problems that could include assistive technology/seating & wheeled mobility, balance and falls, brain injury, degenerative diseases, spinal cord injury, stroke and vestibular rehabilitation.

For more information on this area of focus check out the APTA Neurologic Section.

5. Aquatic Therapy

There are plenty of fish in the sea and plenty of physical therapists in the pool.  There is an entire section devoted to this skilled area in physical therapy.  Aquatic Physical Therapy is the scientific practice of physical therapy in an aquatic environment. The unique properties of the aquatic environment enhance treatments for patients/clients across the age span with musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, cardiovascular/pulmonary, and integumentary (skin) diseases, disorders, or conditions

Aquatic Physical Therapists and Physical Therapist Assistants provide PT treatments in a safe aquatic environment taking into consideration transition to land based functional activities and communication with the patient-care team.

For more information on this specialty check out the AquaticPT FAQs link.

I hope you have now been enlighten with some informations that gives you a new respect for physical therapists and their knowledge and skills.  You may seek to be an expert in a specific area or setting in the future. If you wish to stand out from your colleagues and demonstrate your commitment to the Physical Therapy profession, do some further research in some of the speciality areas that sparked your interest.  Once you get into PT school you can seek out clinical experience in these areas as well to get your feet wet and see if this may be an area of expertise for you.