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Physical Therapist Certification

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Physical therapists are movement experts who improve the quality of life through prescribed exercise, vital hands-on care, and patient education. Physical therapists diagnose medical ailments limiting a patient’s movement and then improve the patient’s range of motion through specialized techniques.

From working in hospitals, schools, sports & fitness facilities, outpatient clinics, and homes, physical therapists work closely with patients from the initial diagnosis to the therapeutic and preventive stages of recovery. The work of a physical therapist varies from one patient’s needs to the other.

Licensed physical therapists can specialize in many areas, such as orthopedics or geriatrics, to optimize the recovery of patients by completing specialty certification. Below is everything you need to know about getting certified as a physical therapist.

Physical Therapist Certification

Physical therapists’ certification is a credential licensed physical therapists obtain to become certified specialists through the American Board of Physical Therapists Specialties (ABPTS).

ABPTS is the only certifying body under the umbrella of the American Physical Therapy Association. Obtaining this certification, while optional, allows a physical therapist to build more excellent professional acumen and get in-depth knowledge and skills related to a particular field of practice.

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) says over 30,000 physical therapists are certified specialists. ABPTS certification must be renewed every ten years.

Reasons to Get Specialty Certified as a Physical Therapist

According to Sharon Dunn, PT, PhD, Board Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist., “Specialization allows physical therapists to channel their thirst for progress into their practice.”

There are many reasons to get certified as a physical therapy specialist. Some of the most popular include but are not limited to the following:

Sets a physical therapist apart

While getting a certification as a physical therapist is optional, it sets you apart from the others. It puts you as an experienced leader in the healthcare industry as it shows that you have advanced clinical and specialized skills over your peers. Many employers opt for physical therapists with certification because they demonstrate experience, dedication, and professional expertise.

According to the APTA, specialist certification helps patients and referral sources know that you offer a deep understanding of specific care areas and are committed to professional growth.

Increase career opportunities

One of the most crucial benefits of getting a certification is that it boosts future career opportunities. For example, a physical therapist can specialize in sports and fitness to increase career opportunities. Or to even be able to apply for more advanced positions such as a pediatric physical therapist.

Increases salary rates

While getting a certification to negotiate higher salary rates is highly debatable amongst physical therapists, there is no doubt that it sometimes influences the issue. Because getting a certification increases career opportunities, a specialty credential can allow a physical therapist to branch into fields such as sports and fitness that can boost their salary rates.

Widens scope of practice

Physical therapy programs cut across all theoretical aspects of physical therapy but lack a specific focus that can allow aspiring physical therapists to choose a specialized field. A specialty credential, on the other hand, allows aspiring physical therapists to pursue the area of physical therapy that appeals to them, be it orthopedic, pediatric, or sports and fitness.

Requirements for Certification as a Physical Therapist

Once an aspiring physical therapist has undergone the educational requirements for starting a career in the field and has successfully obtained a license, they can then get a specialty certification as specified by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS).

According to ABPTS, applicants must submit evidence of 2000 hours of direct patient care as a licensed physical therapist in a specialty area which must have occurred within the last three years. Alternatively, applicants could submit evidence of successful completion of an APTA-accredited post-professional clinical residency within the specialty area completed within the previous ten years.

Specialty Certifications and Requirements

The ABPTS recognizes and offers ten physical therapy specialties, including these four.

Women’s Health Physical Therapy Certification

The Women’s Health Physical Therapy Certification is available for those trained to deal with women’s health, wellness, and fitness issues.


  1. Proof of license
  2. Evidence of 2000 hours of women’s care physical therapy
  3. A recent case study within the last three years based on women’s health.

Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Physical Therapy Certification

The Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Physical Therapy Certification is available for those trained to treat patients with cardiac or respiratory disorders or illnesses


  1. Earn advanced life support certification from the American Heart Association
  2. Provide a recent clinical case study
  3. Pass a written examination of sample case histories with multiple-choice questions.
  4. Complete at least 2,000 hours of direct patient care
  5. Completion or enrollment in an APTA-certified cardiovascular and pulmonary physical therapy clinical residency.

Clinical Electrophysiologic PT Certification

The Clinical Electrophysiologic PT Certification is available for those trained to administer electrodiagnostic and electrotherapeutic clinical procedures to address conditions related to muscle damage, such as autoimmune or motor neuron disease.


  1. 2000 hours of electrophysiology physical therapist-patient care as a licensed physical therapist within the last ten years.
  2. Complete an APTA-accredited post-professional clinical residency in electrophysiology physical therapy.
  3. Submission of 500 recent examinations in electroneuromyography completed in the last ten years.

Geriatric Physical Therapist Certification

The Geriatric Physical Therapist Certification is available for those trained with a focus on aging patients with musculoskeletal and neurological disorders or illnesses.


  1. Proof of enrollment or completion of an APTA-accredited post-professional clinical residency in geriatric physical therapy.
  2. 2000 hours of working with seniors as a licensed physical therapist within the last ten years.

Other Physical Therapy Specialties

  • Sports Physical Therapist Certification
  • Neurological Physical Therapist Certification
  • Orthopedic Physical Therapist Certification
  • Oncology Specialist
  • Wound Management Specialist
  • Pediatric Physical Therapist Specialist Certification

Summary & Final Thoughts

Patients with mobility-impeding injuries or diseases are typically referred to physical therapists. The Physical therapists then work closely with patients to focus on treatment plans that can improve mobility while reducing the need for surgery or avoiding drug dependency.

Certification is optional for a physical therapist; licensed physical therapists do not need it to practice. However, it is a requirement to increase chances of career opportunities, demonstrate commitment to the profession, and show employers that a practicing physical therapist does indeed possess the specialized skills and experience needed to provide services at the highest possible standard.