What They Do: Physical therapists help injured or ill people improve their movement and manage their pain.
Work Environment: Physical therapists typically work in private offices and clinics, hospitals, patients' homes, and nursing homes. They spend much of their time on their feet, actively working with patients.
How to Become One: Physical therapists entering the profession need a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. All states require physical therapists to be licensed.
Salary: The median annual wage for physical therapists is $95,620.
Job Outlook: Employment of physical therapists is projected to grow 17 percent over the next ten years, much faster than the average for all occupations.
Related Careers: Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of physical therapists with similar occupations.
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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.
Physical therapists typically do the following:
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.
Physical therapists hold about 238,800 jobs. The largest employers of physical therapists are as follows:
|Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists||36%|
|Hospitals; state, local, and private||29%|
|Home healthcare services||11%|
|Nursing and residential care facilities||5%|
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.
Most physical therapists work full time. Although most physical therapists work during normal business hours, some may work evenings or weekends.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The median annual wage for physical therapists is $95,620. 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 $61,930, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $127,110.
The median annual wages for physical therapists in the top industries in which they work are as follows:
|Home healthcare services||$99,800|
|Nursing and residential care facilities||$99,640|
|Hospitals; state, local, and private||$99,040|
|Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists||$79,470|
Most physical therapists work full time. Although most therapists work during normal business hours, some may work evenings or weekends.
Employment of physical therapists is projected to grow 17 percent over the next ten years, much faster than the average for all occupations.
About 15,400 openings for physical therapists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.
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 survival of a greater number of trauma victims and newborns with birth defects, creating additional demand for rehabilitative care. Physical therapists will continue to help these patients recover from surgery.
|Occupational Title||Employment, 2021||Projected Employment, 2031||Change, 2021-31|
For more information about physical therapists, visit
American Physical Therapy Association
For more information about accredited physical therapy programs, visit
Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education
For more information about state licensing requirements and about the National Physical Therapy Exam, visit
Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy
For more information about certification, visit
American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties
For more information about residency and fellowship opportunities, visit
American Board of Physical Therapy Residency and Fellowship Education
For more information about how to apply to DPT programs, visit
A portion of the information on this page is used by permission of the U.S. Department of Labor.