Physical Therapists

Career, Salary and Education Information

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Top 3 Physical Therapist Jobs

  • Sports Massage Therapist - JP Physio - County Durham

    We're are expanding our team and we are looking for a sports massage therapist, to work on a self employed basis in our clinic. We would expect them

  • Disability Assessor - Holsworthy - Experis - Devon

    Following assessments, you will produce an objective, professional report detailing how the individual's activities of daily living are

  • Locum Acute Physical Occupational Therapist - Your World - Reading, England

    Our market leading candidate service benefits package includes: CPD Assistance Mandatory Training Arrangements Complete NHS Government Approved

See all Physical Therapist jobs

What Physical Therapists Do[About this section] [To Top]

Physical therapists, sometimes called PTs, help injured or ill people improve their movement and manage their pain. These therapists are often an important part of rehabilitation, treatment, and prevention of patients with chronic conditions, illnesses, or injuries.

Duties of Physical Therapists

Physical therapists typically do the following:

  • Review patients' medical history and any referrals or notes from doctors, surgeons, or other healthcare workers
  • Diagnose patients' functions and movements by observing them stand or walk and by listening to their concerns, among other methods
  • Develop individualized plans of care for patients, outlining the patients' goals and the expected outcomes of the plans
  • Use exercises, stretching maneuvers, hands-on therapy, and equipment to ease patients' pain, help them increase their mobility, prevent further pain or injury, and facilitate health and wellness
  • Evaluate and record a patient's progress, modifying a plan of care and trying new treatments as needed
  • Educate patients and their families about what to expect from the recovery process and how best to cope with challenges throughout the process

Physical therapists provide care to people of all ages who have functional problems resulting from back and neck injuries; sprains, strains, and fractures; arthritis; amputations; neurological disorders, such as stroke or cerebral palsy; injuries related to work and sports; and other conditions.

Physical therapists are educated to use a variety of different techniques to care for their patients. These techniques include exercises; training in functional movement, which may include the use of equipment such as canes, crutches, wheelchairs, and walkers; and special movements of joints, muscles, and other soft tissue to improve movement and decrease pain.

The work of physical therapists varies by type of patient. For example, a patient working to recover mobility lost after a stroke needs different care from a patient who is recovering from a sports injury. Some physical therapists specialize in one type of care, such as orthopedics or geriatrics. Many physical therapists also help patients to maintain or improve mobility by developing fitness and wellness programs that encourage healthier and more active lifestyles.

Physical therapists work as part of a healthcare team, overseeing the work of physical therapist assistants and aides and consulting with physicians and surgeons and other specialists.

Work Environment for Physical Therapists[About this section] [To Top]

Physical therapists hold about 239,800 jobs. The largest employers of physical therapists are as follows:

Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 33%
Hospitals; state, local, and private 26
Home healthcare services 10
Self-employed workers 7
Nursing and residential care facilities 7

Physical therapists spend much of their time on their feet, working with patients. Because they must often lift and move patients, they are vulnerable to back injuries. Physical therapists can limit these risks by using proper body mechanics and lifting techniques when assisting patients.

Physical Therapist Work Schedules

Most physical therapists work full time. About 1 in 5 work part time. Although most physical therapists work during normal business hours, some may work evenings or weekends.

How to Become a Physical Therapist[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Physical Therapists near you!

Physical therapists need a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. All states require physical therapists to be licensed.

Education for Physical Therapists

There are more than 200 programs for physical therapists accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). All programs offer a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree.

DPT programs typically last 3 years. Many programs require a bachelor's degree for admission as well as specific educational prerequisites, such as classes in anatomy, physiology, biology, chemistry, and physics. Some programs admit college freshmen into 6- or 7-year programs that allow students to graduate with both a bachelor's degree and a DPT. Most DPT programs require applicants to apply through the Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service (PTCAS).

Physical therapist programs often include courses in biomechanics, anatomy, physiology, neuroscience, and pharmacology. Physical therapist students also complete at least 30 weeks of clinical work, during which they gain supervised experience in areas such as acute care and orthopedic care.

Physical therapists may apply to and complete a clinical residency program after graduation. Residencies typically last about 1 year and provide additional training and experience in specialty areas of care. Physical therapists who have completed a residency program may choose to specialize further by completing a fellowship in an advanced clinical area. The American Board of Physical Therapy Residency and Fellowship Education has directories of physical therapist residency and fellowship programs.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations for Physical Therapists

All states require physical therapists to be licensed. Licensing requirements vary by state but all include passing the National Physical Therapy Examination administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. Several states also require a law exam and a criminal background check. Continuing education is typically required for physical therapists to keep their license. Check with your state boards for specific licensing requirements.

After gaining work experience, some physical therapists choose to become a board-certified specialist. The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties offers certification in nine clinical specialty areas of physical therapy, including orthopedics, sports, and geriatrics. Board specialist certification requires passing an exam and at least 2,000 hours of clinical work in the specialty area within the last ten years or completion of an American Physical Therapy Association (APTA)-accredited residency program in the specialty area.

Important Qualities for Physical Therapists

Compassion. Physical therapists are often drawn to the profession in part by a desire to help people. They work with people who are in pain and must have empathy for their patients.

Detail oriented. Like other healthcare providers, physical therapists should have strong analytic and observational skills to diagnose a patient's problem, evaluate treatments, and provide safe, effective care.

Dexterity. Physical therapists must use their hands to provide manual therapy and therapeutic exercises. They should feel comfortable massaging and otherwise physically assisting patients.

Interpersonal skills. Because physical therapists spend a lot of time interacting with patients, they should enjoy working with people. They must clearly explain treatment programs, motivate patients, and listen to patients' concerns in order to provide effective therapy.

Physical stamina. Physical therapists spend much of their time on their feet, moving as they demonstrate proper techniques and help patients perform exercises. They should enjoy physical activity.

Resourcefulness. Physical therapists customize treatment plans for patients. They must be flexible and adapt plans of care to meet the needs of each patient.

Time-management skills. Physical therapists typically treat several patients each day. They must provide appropriate care to patients along with completing administrative tasks, such as documenting patient progress.

Physical Therapist Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for physical therapists is $85,400. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $58,190, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $122,130.

The median annual wages for physical therapists in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Home healthcare services $93,200
Nursing and residential care facilities 92,960
Hospitals; state, local, and private 87,010
Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 81,220

Most physical therapists work full time. About 1 in 5 work part time. Although most therapists work during normal business hours, some may work evenings or weekends.

Job Outlook for Physical Therapists[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of physical therapists is projected to grow 25 percent over the next ten years, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Demand for physical therapy will come in part from the large number of aging baby boomers, who are staying more active later in life than their counterparts of previous generations. Older people are more likely to experience heart attacks, strokes, and mobility-related injuries that require physical therapy for rehabilitation.

In addition, a number of chronic conditions, such as diabetes and obesity, have become more prevalent in recent years. More physical therapists will be needed to help these patients maintain their mobility and manage the effects of chronic conditions.

Advances in medical technology have increased the use of outpatient surgery to treat a variety of injuries and illnesses. Medical and technological developments also are expected to permit a greater percentage of trauma victims and newborns with birth defects to survive, creating additional demand for rehabilitative care. Physical therapists will continue to play an important role in helping these patients recover more quickly from surgery.

Job Prospects for Physical Therapists

Job opportunities are expected to be good for licensed physical therapists in all settings. Job prospects should be particularly good in acute-care hospitals, skilled-nursing facilities, and orthopedic settings, where the elderly are most often treated. Job prospects should be especially favorable in rural areas because many physical therapists live in highly populated urban and suburban areas.

Employment projections data for Physical Therapists, 2016-26
Occupational Title Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26
Percent Numeric
Physical therapists 239,800 299,800 25 60,000


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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