Who Are Physical Therapists?

Physical therapists (PTs) are highly-educated, licensed health care professionals who can help patients reduce pain and improve or restore mobility - in many cases without expensive surgery and often reducing the need for long-term use of prescription medications and their side effects.

Physical therapists can teach patients how to prevent or manage their condition so that they will achieve long-term health benefits. PTs examine each individual and develop a plan, using treatment techniques to promote the ability to move, reduce pain, restore function, and prevent disability. In addition, PTs work with individuals to prevent the loss of mobility before it occurs by developing fitness- and wellness-oriented programs for healthier and more active lifestyles.

Physical therapists provide care for people in a variety of settings, including hospitals, private practices, outpatient clinics, home health agencies, schools, sports and fitness facilities, work settings, and nursing homes. State licensure is required in each state in which a physical therapist practices.

Learn more about the role of a physical therapist.

What Do Physical Therapists Earn?

More than 204,000 physical therapists are licensed in the United States today. The median salary for a physical therapist is $85,000. Salaries vary based on position, years of experience, degree of education, geographic location, and practice setting. (Source: APTA 2013 Median Income of Physical Therapists Summary Report.)

Where Do Physical Therapists Practice?

Although many physical therapists practice in hospitals, more than 80 percent practice in:

  • Outpatient clinics or offices
  • Inpatient rehabilitation facilities
  • Skilled nursing, extended care, or subacute facilities
  • Homes
  • Education or research centers
  • Schools
  • Hospices
  • Industrial, workplace, or other occupational environments
  • Fitness centers and sports training facilities

Learn more about physical therapist practice.

What Are the Educational Requirements for Becoming a PT?

All physical therapists must receive a graduate degree from an accredited physical therapist program before taking the national licensure exam that allows them to practice. Physical therapists have the most specialized education to help people restore and improve motion. Today's physical therapist is required to complete a graduate degree - either a masters or clinical doctorate - from an accredited education program. A growing majority of programs offer the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. Currently, 199 colleges and universities nationwide support 212 accredited professional physical therapist education programs; 96% now offer the DPT and the remaining programs are planning to convert.

Learn more about physical therapist education.

What Are the Licensure Requirements for Becoming a PT?

After graduation, candidates must pass a state-administered national exam. Other requirements for physical therapy practice vary from state to state according to physical therapy practice acts or state regulations governing physical therapy.

What is the Employment Outlook for Physical Therapy?

There is a high demand for physical therapists in the workforce. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of physical therapists is expected to grow by 36 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. While demand for physical therapists varies by geographical region and area of practice, the unemployment rates are low across the country. The need for physical therapists is expected to remain strong into the foreseeable future as the US population ages and the demand for physical therapy services grows.

How Do I Become a PT?

Are you interested in becoming a PT? Learn how in our Prospective Students section!

Additional Information

Today's Physical Therapist
Provides an in-depth profile of the history, role, educational preparation, laws governing practice, standards of practice, evidence base of the profession, payment for physical therapy services, and workforce issues unique to the physical therapy profession.

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