How to Become an Orthopedic Physical Therapist

In this lesson, you'll find out how to become an orthopedic physical therapist. Research the education and training requirements, and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in orthopedic physical therapy. View article »

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

94% college-bound high school students
…said it was important to communicate with colleges during the search process. (Source: Noel-Levitz 2012 trend study)

Select a school or program

    • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
    • MBA: Health Systems Management
    • MS in Health Care Administration
    • BS in Health Sciences: Professional Development & Advanced Patient Care
    • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science
    • BS in Health Care Administration
    • View all programs
View More Schools
Show Me Schools
  • 0:03 Orthopedic Physical Therapists
  • 0:52 Career Requirements
  • 1:35 Step 1: Attain a…
  • 2:13 Step 2: Attain a…
  • 3:35 Step 3: License and…
  • 4:51 Step 4: Orthopedic…

Find the perfect school

Video Transcript

Orthopedic Physical Therapists

Orthopedic physical therapists are licensed physical therapists who possess specialized certification in orthopedic physical therapy. They're responsible for conducting examinations of patients who have suffered injuries or who have congenital conditions or diseases that cause physical dysfunction and/or pain in any part of the body. Physical therapists devise treatment plans involving exercise, manipulation, and other modalities to reduce pain, increase a patient's ability to function, or heal an injury. During the course of treatment, they periodically document a patient's progress and make revisions in the treatment plan to respond to changes in a patient's condition. This work can be physically demanding and often requires standing for long periods and lifting or moving patients.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Doctorate
Degree Field Physical Therapy
Licensure and Certification Each state requires physical therapists to be licensed; board certification in orthopedic physical therapy available
Key Skills Interpersonal, communication, monitoring and critical-thinking skills; physical stamina; dexterity; attention to detail
Median Salary (2015)* $84,020 (for all physical therapists)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Online Job Postings (May 2012), O*NET Online

Step 1: Attain a Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree in biology or related field is the first step to becoming an orthopedic physical therapist. Graduate degree programs in physical therapy have certain prerequisites that must be met for admission into a doctoral degree program. Generally, the bachelor's degree courses should include minimum required courses in anatomy, biology, chemistry or biochemistry, physics, physiology, and calculus. These courses must include labs, and the student must maintain a minimum required grade point average. Some programs also require the student to have participated in minimal clinical observation.

Step 2: Attain a Graduate Degree

All states require physical therapists to have doctoral degrees. It takes three years of full time attendance after a bachelor's degree to graduate from a doctoral degree program in physical therapy. Courses generally include fitness and exercise, prosthetic and orthotic interventions, cardiovascular/pulmonary systems, musculoskeletal system, lifespan development, and treatment modalities. There are also annual clinical internship requirements where students shadow doctors and participate in physical therapy in clinical settings.

In order to be successful in a physical therapy career, verify the accreditation of the doctoral program. Make sure a Doctor of Physical Therapy program is accredited by Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). Most states won't issue a physical therapy license to graduates of non-accredited physical therapy programs.

Also, make sure to follow all application requirements. Many schools require applicants to submit their transcripts, letters of reference, personal essays, and other admission documentation through the Physical Therapy Centralized Application Service (or the PTCAS). PTCAS compiles the required information and provides it to the schools to which the applicant applies.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Art Therapist
  • Dance Therapist
  • Kinesiotherapist
  • Music Therapist
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Physical Therapy
  • Prosthetics and Orthotics
  • Rehabilitation Technologies
  • Therapeutic Recreation
  • Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor

Step 3: License and Requirements

After completing a physical therapy program, physical therapists must be licensed by the state in which they practice. The licensing process includes filing an application with proof of attendance at an accredited program, paying a filing fee, and passing a written and/or oral examination. Good moral character is also a common state licensing requirement for which applicants must qualify. Many state boards also reserve the right to impose additional licensing requirements as the situation or case demands before granting a license to practice.

In addition to this, most states have continuing competency requirements that physical therapists must fulfill to maintain their licenses. These requirements vary from state to state. There are national organizations, such as the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy, that provide continuing competence resources for physical therapists that conform to each state's requirements.

Make sure filing deadlines are met. Physical therapists must be sure to satisfy the continuing competency requirements and file their applications for license renewal by the deadline required by the state of employment. Failure to meet these deadlines can result in therapists being suspended for non-compliance with filing requirements.

Step 4: Orthopedic Certification

The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS) provides board certification in orthopedic physical therapy. Applicants are required to be licensed as physical therapists and to have accumulated a minimum of 2,000 hours of direct patient care as orthopedic physical therapists within the prior three years. Applicants must also submit proof of participation in a research project directly related to orthopedic physical therapy within the previous ten years. They must also pass a written examination administered by the certifying board. Upon successful completion of the requirements, physical therapists will be issued board certification in orthopedic physical therapy.

Licensed physical therapists may consider gaining specialized training in orthopedics through a professional certificate program or residency, both of which can help physical therapists fulfill board certification requirements. Programs, such as a musculoskeletal physical therapy certificate program, can provide therapists with advanced knowledge in areas like neuromuscular tissues, motor control, the lumbar spine, and upper extremities. Depending on the school, classes taken in a professional orthopedic certificate program may be part of the overall requirements for a residency.

So a physical therapist working with patients and devising treatment plans and who has earned a doctorate degree in physical therapy from an accredited program, which is three years of study after earning a bachelor's degree, can, as a licensed physical therapist, work to complete the requirements for an orthopedic physical therapist certificate.

What is your highest level of education?

Some College
Complete your degree or find the graduate program that's right for you.
High School Diploma
Explore schools that offer bachelor and associate degrees.
Still in High School
Earn your diploma or GED. Plan your undergraduate education.

Schools you may like:

Popular Schools

The listings below may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users.

    • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
    • MBA: Health Systems Management
    • MS in Health Care Administration
    • BS in Health Sciences: Professional Development & Advanced Patient Care
    • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science
    • BS in Health Care Administration

    What is your highest level of education?

    • Transitional Doctorate of Physical Therapy

    What is your highest level of education completed?

    • Massage Therapy

    What is your highest level of education completed?

  • What is your highest level of education?

    • Massage Therapy

    What is your highest earned degree?

    • Bachelor of Science in Health Science - Pre-Physical Therapy
    • Bachelor of Science in Health Science - Pre-Physician Assistant
    • Bachelor of Science in Health Science with a Concentration in Magnetic Resonance Imaging
    • BS Health Science (Post PTA)
    • BS Health Science
    • BS Health Science (Pre-Physical Therapy)
    • AS Physical Therapist Assistant
    • Associate of Science in Health Science
    • Associate of Science in Health Science - Pre-Nursing
    • Associate of Science in Health Science - Pre-Pharmacy
    • AS Health Science
    • AS Health Science (Pre-Pharmacy)
    • CERT Computed Tomography

    What is your highest level of education completed?

    • Massage Therapy

    Year of High School Graduation or GED completion:

  • What year did you graduate high school?

  • What is your age?

Find your perfect school

What is your highest level of education?