Physical Therapists

This article acts as an extensive career guide that elaborates on the career path of physical therapist, the job outlook, salaries, qualifications required and much more.

Updated by Rakshitha.N on 1st October 2020

What do they do: Physical therapists are experienced professionals who work as a part of a healthcare team to help patients with their physical concerns such as illness, injuries, sprains, fractures, chronic diseases through the development of fitness routines and programs. They also help patients manage their concerns by educating and relieving pain post surgeries. 

Working environment: Physical therapists usually work indoors and in a number of settings such as private offices, clinics, hospitals, patients’ homes, and nursing homes to treat patients dealing with a number of physical concerns. They work 40 hours per week schedule, may also work during holidays and weekends. 

How to become: To become a Physical therapist, one must complete an undergraduate degree and pursue the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree from an accredited college. You could advance your career through specializations, certification, and also gaining experience in the fieldwork. Also, one important requirement is to gain a license and become state-approved by cleaning a specified exam. 

Salary offered: The median salary offered to physical therapists in 2020 is about $88,110 and typically ranges between $81,172 and $95,604 annually. 

Career Outlook: The job growth of physical therapists as projected by the BLS is about 22 percent during the period of 2018 to 2028. The aging population, need for an accelerated recovery phase and awareness of health have increased demand for physical therapists. 

Top Physical Therapist Jobs

Physical therapist- Sports medicine: $78,387

Physical therapists who specialize in sports medicine help athletes to recover and treat them to prevent injuries and improve performance through suitable treatment plans and therapists. 

Physical therapist- Home health: $82,500

Physical therapists specialized in home health are concerned with patients who have issues with chronic diseases such as Heart Failure and COPD. They are also responsible for patient's mobility, lifestyle changes, monitor symptoms, and interventions to help avoid unnecessary trips to the emergency room.

Physical therapist manager: $93,750

Physical therapist managers are responsible for coordinating, training, and directing other therapists on the treatment plans developed for specific patients. Also they oversee the functions and conduct a number of programs of activity therapy. To get a manager's position, you require an application of the Professional Managerial Position Evaluation System.

What Do Physical Therapists Do?

Physical therapists are trained professionals who help their patients to overcome patient’s injuries, illness regarding their movement and management of pain. They work closely with patients and are also responsible for accelerating the recovery phase of the patient's post surgeries, disease attack and other chronic diseases. They play a major role in rehabilitation centers, clinics, hospitals and offices. The duties also include,

  • Examining the patient’s medical history and other references by doctors, physicians, surgeons, or other healthcare workers about the treatment plans.

  • Work closely with patients and understand their issues concerning them 

  • Observe the patient’s movements and diagnose the patients' functions to determine the problem

  • Develop a customized treatment plan taking note of the patient issues, goals and the expected outcomes of the plans

  • Demonstrate the right methods of performing exercises to improve health and prevent pain or injury

  • Incorporate the exercises, therapies, stretching maneuvers and use of right equipment to help them increase their mobility and relieve pain. 

  • Keep track of the patient’s progress regularly and modify the plans to try new treatments and help patients recover soon.

  • Educate the patients and their families on post-treatment care and how to cope with the challenges faced throughout this phase.

  • Create awareness about health and wellness through active participation in sports and other physical activities.

  • Deal with various exercise and fitness routines followed for separate sections of body parts. Also handle equipment such as canes, crutches, wheelchairs, and walkers to help patient movement.

  • Collaborate with a number of specialists,  healthcare teams and physical therapist assistants and aides to understand the problem and create treatment plans accordingly.

For instance, if you are a physical therapist working with a specialization of orthopedics or geriatrics, you are given the responsibility to help patients regarding the improvement of mobility through wellness programs and fitness routines. 

Working Conditions of Physical Therapists

Physical therapists work indoors and in a number of locations and care facilities such as hospitals, healthcare services, rehabilitation centers, and are self-employed as well. They are quick on their heels and work with patients to relieve pain and speeding up the recovery phase. The working conditions also include,

  • They have a high level of social interaction with clients, patients, Physical therapy assistants and aides, staff and also with physicians and surgeons.

  • Communicate effectively with other specialists to maintain good health and safety fitness regime for patients

  • Can communicate through telephone, e-mails, and most frequently through in-person conversations.

  • They work with teams or as individuals to help clients effectively.

  • Exposed to various diseased, injured, ill patients on a daily basis.

  • Work to maintain accuracy and demonstrate exercise to cause no error or harm to the patients.

  • Consult various supervisors to set goals, tasks as the routine is similar to most patients

  • Must work towards meeting deadlines and can work off schedule to help clients

  • Work in a fixed schedule of 40 hours per week 

  • Also, work regardless of evenings or weekends or holidays. 

Today, Physical therapists held about 247,700 jobs and the largest employees are as follows, 

  • Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologist: 33%

  • Hospitals; state, local, and private: 26%

  • Home healthcare services: 11%

  • Nursing and residential care facilities: 7%

  • Self-employed workers: 5%

How to Become a Physical Therapist?

Becoming a Physical therapist, you require a bachelor's degree in any health-related field which gives you a stronghold on the prerequisite to pursuing higher education such as enroll in the professional Doctor of Physical Therapy( DPT) program. After completing the DPT program, you must then aim towards completing a residency program that helps in specializing and this will enable you to gain the necessary experience required to obtain a license. Upon clearing the National Physical Therapy Examination conducted by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy you become a licensed physical therapist. 

Educational requirements for Physical Therapists

To become a qualified physical therapist, it is mandatory to complete a Doctor of Physical Therapy ( DPT) program and gain the license according to the state requirement. 

A bachelor’s degree in a healthcare field is a 4 years program that helps you acquire strong prerequisites in Anatomy, Physiology, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. 

After completing the undergrad degree, you must enroll in a Doctor of Physical Therapy ( DPT) program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE)  through the Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service (PTCAS) which takes about 3 years. The coursework includes Applied physical therapy, Functional anatomy, Complex condition, lifespan development, pharmacotherapy. You can also choose p of the 200 accredited programs which offer specialization in wide areas.

Specializations also include biomechanics, anatomy, physiology, neuroscience, and pharmacology, and also a clinical experience to trade acute care and orthopedic care.

Licenses and Certifications for Physical Therapists

After completing education, you can voluntarily pursue residency and fellowship programs which help in gaining valuable experience under the guidance of professional therapists. You can choose specialties and subspecialties which help you to become experts and getting high earning potentials. 

Certification: after gaining sufficient experience through internships, residency programs, you can become a board-certified specialist but complete certification specialties offered by The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties. To become certified, you must pass an exam and gain a minimum of 2,000 hours of clinical work in the specialty area. The 8 specialization areas  include the, 

  • Sports - both amateur and professional athletics

  • Orthopedics

  • Geriatrics

  • Neurology

  • Clinical electrophysiology

  • Cardiovascular & pulmonary

  • Pulmonary

  • Women’s health

License: The state requirements to earn the license for physical therapist varies from one to another in the United States and hence, you must be aware of meeting the specified requirements to be eligible. But common requirements include gaining clinical experience for a minimum of 3 years and then clearing the National Physical Therapy Examination administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy successfully. Few states may also require you to pass the law exam and get a verified criminal background check. 

Getting this license will allow you to work in the public and government sectors. To keep the license active, you must continue education for certain specified credits at regular periods. 

Stand Out Skills for Physical Therapists

This is a profession with diversity and you are required to possess some exceptional skills with high academic knowledge, hence here are some skills listed for you,

Compassion: A physical therapist must connect with their patients and interact with them with compassion. As this profession is concerned with helping people, as a pt you must have empathy toward your patients.

Attention to detail: Detailing is important in this profession, you must pay attention and be observant towards even the smallest details possible. With strong analytical and thinking skills, you must evaluate and record very details while treating patients.

Physical stamina: A physical therapist must have great stamina to work well and demonstrate proper techniques to help their patients perform the exercise to follow the preset plan. Being physically strong gives them more enthusiasm to work and treat patients.

Time management skills: Managing time plays an important role in the physical therapist profession. They must be accurate on the medication and the exercise they suggest and be competitive in their roles. They must prove the care and complete administrative tasks.

Accuracy: They must be accurate in analyzing the health conditions of the patients, they should know the effects of the drug before recommending them before to their patients. Recollecting the details and information on the exercise and medicines for designing a better treatment plan.

Top University Programs for Physical Therapists 

  • University of Delaware.

  • University of Pittsburgh.

  • Washington University in St. Louis.

  • Northwestern University.

  • University of Iowa.

  • University of Southern California.

  • Duke University.

  • Emory University

Physical Therapists Salary

In 2020, The average salary offered to Physical Therapists in the United States is about $88,110 and typically ranges between $81,172 and $95,604 annually. The wages can vary widely based on many factors such as education, certifications, specialization, skills, experience, type of job, and others.

Breaking down the salary offered,

  • 10th percentile: $74,854

  • 25th percentile: $81,172

  • 50th percentile (median): $88,110

  • 75th percentile: $95,604

  • 90th percentile: $102,427

The salary offered by the top industries who hire the physical therapists are detailed as follows,

  • Nursing and residential care facilities: $95,540

  • Home healthcare services: $94,080

  • Hospitals; state, local, and private: $91,260

  • Offices of physical, occupational, and speech therapists, and audiologists: $85,130

Job Growth of Physical Therapists

The growth rate of physical therapists as predicted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics is about 22 percent during the period of 2018 to 2028 where the growth is faster than the average growth of the jobs. 

Also, the statistics determine that the total number of current physical therapists is about 247,700 and estimated to have an increase of about 301,900 by the end of 2028 that is, there will be 54,200 additional job opportunities created during the period of 10 years. 

The increased demand for physical therapists is due to the need for physical therapy, the aging population required a need for therapy to prevent heart attacks, strokes, and mobility-related injuries through rehabilitation. In addition, the need for prevention of chronic conditions, such as diabetes and obesity; increasing outpatient surgery to treat injuries and illnesses and the need for accelerated recovery phase post-surgery increases the growth trends of physical therapists.

Related Careers for Physical Therapists

With a degree and certification of a physical therapist, you can choose alternative career opportunities, here are few career concentrations you could choose.

Nutritionist and dietitian

A nutritionist is a professional who is concerned with the promotion of health and manage the disease through proper nutrition intake. They regulate and plan your food menu with the addition of the required nutrition to nourish your body and maintain a healthy lifestyle. This requires you to have a bachelor's degree and certification for a job. This job offers a salary ranging between $36,000 to $67,000 based on your qualification.

Athletic trainer

Athletic trainers are experts who are certified and licensed to assist patients with sports exercise and medicine. The trainers deal with the examination, prevention, evaluation, treatment of the injuries, and other health-related conditions. This field is blooming with the recognition of the American Medical Association (AMA), Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). You are required to have a bachelor's degree and several hours of clinical experience where you can earn up to $44,670 per year.

Recreational therapist

A recreational therapist helps relieve stress, anxiety, and reduce depression and other problems of the patient with active participation in various creative activities such as art, sports, dance, and others. This role requires a bachelor's degree with clinical experience and offers a salary of about $31,000 to $46,000 annually.


They are healthcare professionals who are specialized in treating patients with auditory disorders. They treat patients by diagnosis, managing, and testing the issues related to the auditory and vestibular portions of the ear. This job requires you to have an Au.D. (Doctorate in Audiology), or a Master's or Doctoral degree. You can earn a salary ranging between $54,000 to $110,000 every year.

Occupational therapist

They are professionals who evaluate the patient’s condition by examining the evidence, medical records of the patients to provide proper treatment. They also motivate patients to develop independent skills to carry out their daily activities. The professionals working in this field earn about $80,100 every year