Physical Therapy Business Tips

A Guide To Physical Therapy Specialties To Choose From

updated on

April 8, 2024

A Guide To Physical Therapy Specialties To Choose From

The physical therapy profession is a broad and diverse world full of unique physical therapy specialties. From hospital-based acute care therapists to cash-pay orthopedic clinic owners, there really is something special for everybody with their hard-earned license.

But with all of the different options, it can be hard to cut through all the noise and niche down on something that aligns with your personal and professional aspirations.

Not to worry because we’re about to cover some of the most relevant physical therapy specialties today, how they can impact your clinical career, and how to choose a specialty that makes the most sense for your long-term goals.

What Is a Physical Therapy Specialization?

Physical therapy specializations are niche areas of practice within the field of physical therapy which can be studied after graduation from a physical therapy program. In most cases, these specializations are represented with a specialty certification, such as an OCS, SCS, or NCS.

For most practicing therapists, physical therapy specialties are pursued to help gain new skills that will help you better serve a specific population of patients. For example, if you know that you’re interested in working with senior citizens and want to optimize the care you provide for that group of people, you would pursue a Geriatric Clinical Specialist certification, or GCS.

Of course, pursuing a specialty can also be a strategic decision that helps with managing or starting a physical therapy business.

What Are Different Physical Therapy Specialties

There are a variety of physical therapy specialties available to physical therapists today covering a number of different patient populations. Although no specialty is necessarily better than another, popular examples in modern physical therapy include orthopedic, women’s health, pediatrics, neurology, geriatric, and cardiovascular.

Most PT specializations are backed by PT board certifications, which are awarded based on the completion of a thorough exam related to the specialty. These PT board certifications are one of the requirements for different physical therapists that are designed to ensure that newly certified specialists are both competent and up-to-date with their knowledge and skills.

To help you better understand what options are out there, let’s cover some of the most well-known and relevant PT specialties available today.

Cardiovascular & Pulmonary Clinical

Cardiovascular and pulmonary clinical specialists (CCS) are board-certified physical therapists with special training in rehabilitation related to cardiopulmonary conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart failure, and others.

Physical therapists with their CCS can practice in hospitals, cardiac rehab facilities, and outpatient facilities treating patients returning to their normal lives or managing chronic conditions. As of 2023 there were just over 500 cardiovascular and pulmonary clinical specialists certified through ABPTS.

Clinical Electrophysiology

Clinical electrophysiology specialists (ECS) are board-certified physical therapists who are trained in using electricity to monitor, measure, and treat different health problems with a variety of electrodiagnostic and electrotherapeutic clinical procedures.

Physical therapists with their ECS typically practice in specialty clinics, making this specialty an excellent way to differentiate your services and treat a very specific set of conditions. As of 2023 there were 237 clinical electrophysiology specialists certified through ABPTS.

Physical Therapy Specialty Geriatrics


Geriatric clinical specialists (GCS) are board-certified physical therapists with special training in the care of senior citizens. Having a broader understanding of the differences in physiology and care needs that seniors have compared to other age groups, GCS therapists are able to provide more comprehensive and evidence-informed care to the older population.

Physical therapists with their GCS can practice in a wide range of settings, including long-term care facilities and community wellness programs. With much more popularity than other specialties we’ve covered so far, in 2023 there were just over 4,000 geriatric clinical specialists certified through ABPTS.


Neurologic clinical specialists (NCS) are board-certified physical therapists with additional competency in treating developmental, systemic, and traumatic disorders of the nervous system. These specialists use preventive, evaluative, and rehabilitative techniques that are appropriate for people of all ages with neurological conditions.

Although many therapists with their NCS practice in acute care settings and work with patients who have experienced a stroke or traumatic brain injury, many also work in care facilities treating conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis. Similar in popularity to the GCS, in 2023 there were just over 4,500 neurologic clinical specialists certified through ABPTS.


An Oncologic clinical specialist (OPT) is a board-certified physical therapist with additional training in treating physical impairments, side effects, and pain related to cancer or cancer treatments. Some common examples of cancer treatments that cause challenging side effects include chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery.

Therapists with their OPT also have training in lymphedema management, which is a common side effect related to treatments like chemotherapy. Working with cancer-related conditions isn’t easy, and in 2023 there were about 180 oncologic clinical specialists certified through ABPTS.


Orthopaedic clinical specialists (OCS) are board-certified physical therapists with special training in the diagnosis and treatment of orthopedic conditions. Although most students learn the basics of orthopedic care in physical therapy school, an OCS takes these skills a level deeper and needs to demonstrate understanding of the current best practice guidelines in the field.

Because of the highly specialized nature of orthopedic care in physical therapy, most therapists with their OCS are treating patients in outpatient facilities or their own cash pay practice. As the most popular area of care within physical therapy, in 2023 there were over 21,000 orthopaedic clinical specialists certified through ABPTS.


A pediatric clinical specialist (PCS) is a board-certified physical therapist with additional training in the treatment of traumatic, developmental, and systemic conditions affecting children. Education and practice related to the PCS encompasses both evaluative and rehabilitative procedures that focus on the specific needs and preferences of children.

Therapists with their PCS are well-equipped to practice in settings such as children’s hospitals, pediatric clinics, or schools offering physical therapy care. In 2023 there were just over 2,700 pediatric clinical specialists certified through ABPTS.


Sports clinical specialists (SCS) are board-certified physical therapists with extra training in the prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, and education of patients in athletic environments. While it might sound like a sports specialist is just treating common conditions in an athletic setting, these therapists also have training in the specific needs of athletes to create a holistic and sustainable care plan for individuals with very demanding lifestyles.

Physical therapists with their SCS are uniquely positioned to help athletes in a variety of settings, including working directly with sports teams. In 2023 there were approximately 3,200 sports clinical specialists certified through ABPTS.

Physical Therapy Specialty Women's Health

Women's Health

A women’s health clinical specialist (WCS) is a board-certified physical therapist with special education and training in women’s health physical therapy - but what does that mean exactly?

Put simply, therapists with their WCS learn how to treat pelvic floor dysfunction, bowel and bladder incontinence, musculoskeletal issues related to pregnancy, pain during sex, and other conditions that are considered unique to women.

Although the title suggests that these specialists only treat women, they are also equipped to handle many men’s health issues and often treat both women and men. In 2023 there were only 770 women’s health clinical specialists certified through ABPTS, but the demand for this specialty is at an all-time high.

Wound Management

Wound management clinical specialists are board-certified physical therapists with special training in maintaining the integrity of the integumentary system across the lifespan with a special focus on preventing and managing multiple types of wounds and integumentary conditions.

The most common area of practice for wound management is hospitals, however therapists within this specialty can also use their skills as part of comprehensive care in a variety of settings and patient populations. As one of the newest PT specializations available, there were about 20 wound management clinical specialists certified through ABPTS in 2023.

Should You Pick A PT Specialty

Choosing a physical therapy specialization can help physical therapists build on their education and experience to deepen their knowledge and skills related to a specialized area of practice. In many ways, specialties are a means to take basic skills learned in school and develop them into refined expertise.

When it comes to deciding whether or not to pick a physical therapy specialty, it’s important to think about the professional goals you have for yourself and the people that you want to use your skills to help. For example, if you know that you want to continue working in orthopedics and you enjoy working with athletes, then a sports clinical specialist (SCS) specialty might be the right choice for you.

Keep in mind that although most therapists stop after just one specialty certification, the sky's the limit! Some specialty certifications may pair well with each other and merit pursuing both. For example, a pediatric oncologist may benefit from earning their pediatric clinical specialist (PCS) and oncologic clinical specialist (OPT) certifications.

Physical Therapy SOAP Notes

Although it’s no therapist’s favorite part of their job, physical therapy SOAP notes are a major part of treating patients within any specialty.

For clinicians using their physical therapy specialties to help patients in their community clinics, effective
physical therapy software is an essential part of patient care. ClinicSense is an innovative and intuitive practice management software that simplifies patient care and helps improve patient outcomes. 

The benefits of booking software, and effective documentation software, can’t be understated when you’re trying to put your specialization to good use in the clinic, and it can be exhausting starting a new physical therapy software only to find that it doesn’t work out for your specific needs.

To help with this, ClinicSense offers a free trial for physical therapists who want to enable their practice to see more patients, better manage time, and provide better care across many different physical therapy specialties with less hassle. 

Sign up here for a free trial of our industry-leading practice management software.

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