Physical Therapy Settings

Image of Dr. Tyler performing hip tests on a patient during physical therapy
Where We Work

We would like to highlight the different settings a physical therapist can work. At this time, all physical therapist are required to obtain their doctorate degree. Once graduated, we specialize through various continuing education courses. Depending on the setting we are in, will determine how we progress our knowledge. We work in, but are not limited to, hospitals, long term care facilities, and outpatient clinics. At any time we can change course and move into a different setting. This makes our profession very dynamic. Below we will address the different settings and how a physical therapist can help you in each one. In many of these settings we work closely with occupational therapist, speech therapist and nursing to ensure you have a safe transition from one setting to the next.

Acute Care

The hospital, or acute care, is the first setting we will talk about today. In this setting we work directly with the hospital staff to evaluate the patient from a functional standpoint. When you enter the hospital with a medical condition, we need to determine if it is safe for you to return home. Some medical conditions can be life altering and require months of intense rehabilitation. In the acute care, the physical therapist evaluates and sets the tone for what is to come in regards to one’s rehab process. Once you are stabilized from a medical stand point, therapy will begin rehab until it is safe to be discharged. You may be discharged home or to a specific rehabilitation facility depending on the severity of your condition.

Skilled Nursing & Assisted Living

When someone is not safe enough to return home from the hospital, they will find themselves in a skilled nursing (SNF) or assisted living facility (ALF). For example, if someone had a severe stroke and is unable to ascend the five stairs to get into their home, they will need to go to a SNF or ALF. Nurses and nurses assistants will administer medication and manage any wounds or medical devices. Bathing, dressing, and cooking will be provided as necessary for each individual person. Therapy will be providing care typically five days a week. This may include physical, occupational, and speech therapy. Similar to that of the hospital, our main goal is to provide rehabilitation services and determine if and when it is safe to return home. If someone no longer has the care or means to return home they will find placement in a longterm care facility. 

Home Health

For those who do progress enough from a SNF and ALF will eventually return home. To receive home health, you do not need to come from a SNF or ALF. You may come from the hospital or get a referral from your primary care doctor. This service is provided to people who do not have the means to safely leave the home into the community. A physical therapist in the home health setting is constantly communicating with occupational therapist, speech therapist, home health aids, nurses, social workers, and doctors. The main goal is to provide a level of care that one would get in the community if they could leave on their own. 


This setting is your typical clinic or stand alone building that is separate from any hospital. Many individuals graduate from home health or SNF to outpatient physical therapy. Many people go straight to this setting after surgery or an injury depending on the severity. There are a variety of specialties within the outpatient setting such as orthopedic, pediatric and neurological based. In the outpatient setting therapist can specialize in vestibular, woman’s health, and Parkinson’s Disease to name a few areas. Within this setting you may find large corporations, small business owners, or cash based physical therapy practices. These businesses can operate out of your local gym, provide mobile services or operate in their own buildings. 

Continuous Care

The most important lesson to take away from this post is the continuity of care. We don’t want you to look at these different settings independently from each other. Some people will use only one setting while many individuals will progress from one setting to the next. It is important to see how we can assist you throughout your rehabilitation journey no matter your current stage.

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