Physical Therapist

Physical therapists help patients recover from injuries or illnesses by working to restore their movement and alleviate any pain. They help figure out what is causing a patient’s pain and movement problems and create a treatment plan that usually involves exercises, stretching and massage therapy. They may use adaptive equipment. They advise patients on any lifestyle changes that will help and give tips on coping with the disability during their recovery. Physical therapists can work in their own practice but more often work for an employer such as a physical therapy practice, a rehabilitation facility, a doctor’s office, a hospital, a nursing home or a home health care service. They work with the patients’ physician or specialist to integrate physical therapy into their overall care plan. Physical therapists are sometimes called PTs.


Physical therapists need at least a master’s degree and often a doctoral degree in physical therapy. It is no longer enough to have just a bachelor’s degree. Physical therapists also need to be licensed to work in their particular state. Some states require continuing education. Some physical therapists become board certified in a particular area such as pediatrics or sports therapy. They not only have strong technical knowledge and attention to detail but also possess good people skills.


The median annual salary for physical therapists in May 2010 was $76,310, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. The top 10 percent of workers made $107,920 and the bottom 10 percent made $53,620. The pay depends on location; areas with more patients increase the demand for physical therapists and thereby increase the salary. Big cities with aging populations, cities with big college sports programs or professional teams and states such as Florida and California that attract retirees offer higher pay for physical therapists. Metropolitan areas with the highest-paid physical therapists were Madera, Calif.; McAllen, Texas; and Fairbanks, Ark. Physical therapists see their paychecks increase as they gain experience. Those with three years of experience earn a median income of $51,000 and those with more than 15 years of experience earn a median income of $75,000, according to the American Physical Therapy Association. Physical therapists make more than the similar occupations of occupational therapist, registered nurse and massage therapist.

Job Outlook

Thanks to aging baby boomers requiring physical therapy, jobs in the field are expected to grow 39 percent from 2010 to 2020. The Department of Labor says physical therapists will most be needed in hospitals, nursing homes and orthopedic centers. As scientists learn more about how to help patients with physical therapy needs and as the industry technology continues improving, there will be additional job growth and higher pay in the field.