What you need to know
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 the rehabilitation, treatment, and prevention of patients with chronic conditions, illnesses, or injuries.
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.
Some of the things physical therapists might do:
- 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
- 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 average pay for physical therapists in the United States ranges from $61,930 to $127,110 as of May 2021.
The specific pay depends on factors such as level of experience, education and training, geographic location, and specific industry.
Employment of physical therapists is projected to grow 21 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations.
Demand for physical therapy will come from the aging baby boomers, who are not only staying active later in life, but are more susceptible to health conditions, such as strokes, that may require physical therapy.
Advances in medical technology have increased the use of outpatient surgery to treat a variety of injuries and illnesses. Physical therapists will be needed to help these patients recover from surgery.
Physical therapists need a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. All states require physical therapists to be licensed.
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).