Physical therapist salary & career outlook
For the nation's more than 184,000 licensed physical therapists, the American Physical Therapy Association notes good medicine is about more than prescription drugs and surgery. It is also about working with the body to strengthen muscles, reduce pain and restore mobility.
Physical therapists help those with medical problems that limit their ability to move or perform basic functions, including illnesses, conditions and injuries. While some therapists work in hospitals, the APTA reports more than 80 percent practice in other settings such as outpatient clinics, skilled nursing facilities, schools, homes and fitness clinics.
Regardless of the work setting, these health professionals typically do all of the following:
- Examine patients
- Develop a treatment plan that would reduce pain while restoring function or movement
- Oversee therapies, including exercises, functional training, or the use of adaptive devices.
- Coordinate with other care workers to ensure total care.
Because of the sensitive nature of their work, physical therapists should be patient, nurturing, and have solid communication skills.
How much do physical therapists make?
Physical therapy can be both a personally fulfilling and a financially rewarding career. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median physical therapist salary in 2013 was $81,030, with the middle 50 percent earning between $67,700 and $93,820. Salaries for the top 10 percent exceeded $113,340. Advancing your education through continuing education courses (CECs) or becoming board certified in a clinical specialty could help you qualify for these higher earnings. Physical therapist training online can help you earn these credentials while maintaining full-time work.
The BLS also reports the following states had the highest average annual salaries for physical therapists in 2013.
- Nevada: $115,220
- Alaska: $96,800
- California: $91,330
- Texas: $90,890
- New Jersey: $90,750
In terms of the highest paying metropolitan areas, physical therapists earn the most in these three cities:
- Laredo, Texas: $126,410 average annual salary
- Las Vegas-Paradise, Nevada: $124,060 average annual salary
- Brownsville-Harlingen, Texas: $114,090 average annual salary
Individuals looking to work in an area offering high wages and a low cost of living may want to consider exploring career options in Texas. According to the Council for Community and Economic Research, Halingen, Texas, had the third-lowest cost of living in the nation for the third quarter of 2014. The Texas cities of McAllen and San Marcos also made the list for the top 10 least-expensive communities in the nation.
When it comes to pay by industry, the BLS found the following sectors paid their physical therapists the most.
- Other schools and instruction, $92,500 average annual salary
- Home health care services, $91,190 average annual salary
- Nursing care facilities, $87,250 average annual salary
Physical therapy career outlook
The future is bright for budding physical therapists. According to the BLS, physical therapist positions are expected to grow by an impressive 36 percent nationally between 2012 and 2022. That is a rate much faster than the average for all occupations, which hovers around 11 percent growth.
The APTA reports demand for physical therapists can vary by geographic region, but unemployment in the field is typically low across the nation. The BLS found the following states employed the greatest number of physical therapists in 2013.
- New York
These states may not have the same high number of physical therapists, but the growth is expected to be excellent through 2022, according to state data collected by Projections Central:
- Virginia: 48 percent projected growth
- Utah: 40.3 percent projected growth
- Kentucky: 40.2 percent projected growth
A growing elderly population and medical advancements that improve life expectancy should contribute to this growth, as will the federally mandated Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that guarantees students in need access to physical therapy while in school. Prospects should be best, however, for those who acquire the right training, which is why it' so important to choose the right physical therapist program for you, online or otherwise.
What are the training requirements?
The BLS reports that aspiring PTs must earn their post-baccalaureate physical therapy degrees from accredited programs. They must also be licensed, which involves passing the National Physical Therapy Examination and fulfilling additional state-specific requirements. Physical therapists must also enroll in continuing education courses to maintain employment, and those who hope to improve their salary and employment potential by earning board certification must undergo additional training.
While the nature of the profession mandates some hands-on training, you can typically complete some physical therapist training online through hybrid programs combining traditional and Web-based learning.
Who are Physical Therapists? American Physical Therapist Association,
Physical Therapist (PT) Careers Overview, American Physical Therapist Association,
Occupational Employment and Wages: Physical Therapists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, April 1, 2014,
"COLI Release Highlights: Quarter 3 2014," The Council for Community and Economic Research,