Physical Therapists

Career, Salary and Education Information

Top 3 physical therapist Jobs

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    The physical therapy job requires 85-95% productivity from the perfect candidate and working knowledge of various insurance plans, including Medicare

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    Unlike a rehabilitation setting or even an outpatient clinic, unique emphasis is placed on safe mobility in and around the patients residence. PTs

  • Physical Therapist Part-time -FLEXIBLE HOURS to fit your lifestyle! - American Senior Communities - Ligonier, IN

    Avalon Village is a FIVE STAR community as rated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid

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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 includes 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 to 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 held about 210,900 jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most physical therapists were as follows:

Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 34%
Hospitals; state, local, and private 27
Home healthcare services 12
Nursing and residential care facilities 7
Offices of physicians 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. 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 worked part time in 2014. Although most 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.

Physical Therapist Education

In 2015, there were 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. Most 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. Therapists who have completed a residency program may choose to specialize further by completing a fellowship in an advanced clinical area.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

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 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 8 clinical specialty areas, including orthopedics, sports, and geriatric physical therapy. Board specialist certification requires passing an exam and at least 2,000 hours of clinical work 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 be able to clearly explain treatment programs, motivate patients, and listen to patients’ concerns 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 able to adapt plans of care to meet the needs of each patient.


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

The median annual wage for physical therapists was $84,020 in May 2015. 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 $57,060, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $119,790.

In May 2015, the median annual wages for physical therapists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Home healthcare services $91,400
Nursing and residential care facilities 91,140
Hospitals; state, local, and private 85,360
Offices of physicians 83,240
Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 80,000

Most physical therapists work full time. About 1 in 5 worked part time in 2014. 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 34 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Demand for physical therapy services 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.

Furthermore, the number of individuals who have access to health insurance is expected to continue to increase because of federal health insurance reform. Physical therapists will be needed to assist patients with rehabilitation and treatment of any chronic conditions or injuries.

Physical Therapists Job Prospects

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, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Physical therapists 210,900 282,700 34 71,800


*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Used by permission.

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