Employment is expected to increase much faster than the average,
as growth in the number of individuals with disabilities or
limited functioning spurs demand for therapy services.
Job opportunities should be particularly good in acute hospital,
rehabilitation, and orthopedic settings.
After graduating from an accredited physical therapist educational
program, therapists must pass a licensure exam before they can
Nearly 6 out of 10 physical therapists work in hospitals or
in offices of physical therapists.
Nature of the Work
Physical therapists provide services that help restore function,
improve mobility, relieve pain, and prevent or limit permanent
physical disabilities of patients suffering from injuries or disease.
They restore, maintain, and promote overall fitness and health.
Their patients include accident victims and individuals with disabling
conditions such as low-back pain, arthritis, heart disease, fractures,
head injuries, and cerebral palsy.
Therapists examine patientsí medical histories and then test
and measure the patientsí strength, range of motion, balance and
coordination, posture, muscle performance, respiration, and motor
function. They also determine patientsí ability to be independent
and reintegrate into the community or workplace after injury or
illness. Next, physical therapists develop plans describing a
treatment strategy, its purpose, and its anticipated outcome.
Physical therapist assistants, under the direction and supervision
of a physical therapist, may be involved in implementing treatment
plans with patients. Physical therapist aides perform routine
support tasks, as directed by the therapist.
Treatment often includes exercise for patients who have been
immobilized and lack flexibility, strength, or endurance. Physical
therapists encourage patients to use their own muscles to increase
their flexibility and range of motion before finally advancing
to other exercises that improve strength, balance, coordination,
and endurance. The goal is to improve how an individual functions
at work and at home.
Physical therapists also use electrical stimulation, hot packs
or cold compresses, and ultrasound to relieve pain and reduce
swelling. They may use traction or deep-tissue massage to relieve
pain. Therapists also teach patients to use assistive and adaptive
devices, such as crutches, prostheses, and wheelchairs. They also
may show patients exercises to do at home to expedite their recovery.
As treatment continues, physical therapists document the patientís
progress, conduct periodic examinations, and modify treatments
when necessary. Besides tracking the patientís progress, such
documentation identifies areas requiring more or less attention.
Physical therapists often consult and practice with a variety
of other professionals, such as physicians, dentists, nurses,
educators, social workers, occupational therapists, speech-language
pathologists, and audiologists.
Some physical therapists treat a wide range of ailments; others
specialize in areas such as pediatrics, geriatrics, orthopedics,
sports medicine, neurology, and cardiopulmonary physical therapy.
Physical therapists practice in hospitals, clinics, and private
offices that have specially equipped facilities, or they treat
patients in hospital rooms, homes, or schools.
In 2004, most full-time physical therapists worked a 40-hour
week; some worked evenings and weekends to fit their patientsí
schedules. About 1 in 4 physical therapists worked part time.
The job can be physically demanding because therapists often have
to stoop, kneel, crouch, lift, and stand for long periods. In
addition, physical therapists move heavy equipment and lift patients
or help them turn, stand, or walk.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
All States require physical therapists to pass a licensure exam
before they can practice, after graduating from an accredited
physical therapist educational program.
According to the American Physical Therapy Association, there
were 205 accredited physical therapist programs in 2004. Of the
accredited programs, 94 offered masterís degrees, and 111 offered
doctoral degrees. All physical therapist programs seeking accreditation
are required to offer degrees at the masterís degree level and
above, in accordance with the Commission on Accreditation in Physical
Physical therapist programs start with basic science courses
such as biology, chemistry, and physics and then introduce specialized
courses, including biomechanics, neuroanatomy, human growth and
development, manifestations of disease, examination techniques,
and therapeutic procedures. Besides getting classroom and laboratory
instruction, students receive supervised clinical experience.
Among the courses that are useful when one applies to a physical
therapist educational program are anatomy, biology, chemistry,
social science, mathematics, and physics. Before granting admission,
many professional education programs require experience as a volunteer
in a physical therapy department of a hospital or clinic. For
high school students, volunteering with the school athletic trainer
is a good way to gain experience.
Physical therapists should have strong interpersonal skills in
order to be able to educate patients about their physical therapy
treatments. Physical therapists also should be compassionate and
possess a desire to help patients. Similar traits are needed to
interact with the patientís family.
Physical therapists are expected to continue their professional
development by participating in continuing education courses and
workshops. In fact, a number of States require continuing education
as a condition of maintaining licensure.
Physical therapists held about 155,000 jobs in 2004. The number
of jobs is greater than the number of practicing physical therapists,
because some physical therapists hold two or more jobs. For example,
some may work in a private practice, but also work part time in
another health care facility.
Nearly 6 out of 10 physical therapists worked in hospitals or
in offices of physical therapists. Other jobs were in home health
care services, nursing care facilities, outpatient care centers,
and offices of physicians.
Some physical therapists were self-employed in private practices,
seeing individual patients and contracting to provide services
in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing care facilities,
home health care agencies, adult day care programs, and schools.
Physical therapists also teach in academic institutions and conduct
Employment of physical therapists is expected to grow much faster
than the average for all occupations through 2014. The impact
of proposed Federal legislation imposing limits on reimbursement
for therapy services may adversely affect the short-term job outlook
for physical therapists. However, over the long run, the demand
for physical therapists should continue to rise as growth in the
number of individuals with disabilities or limited function spurs
demand for therapy services. Job opportunities should be particularly
good in acute hospital, rehabilitation, and orthopedic settings,
because the elderly receive the most treatment in these settings.
The growing elderly population is particularly vulnerable to chronic
and debilitating conditions that require therapeutic services.
Also, the baby-boom generation is entering the prime age for heart
attacks and strokes, increasing the demand for cardiac and physical
rehabilitation. Further, young people will need physical therapy
as technological advances save the lives of a larger proportion
of newborns with severe birth defects.
Future medical developments also should permit a higher percentage
of trauma victims to survive, creating additional demand for rehabilitative
care. In addition, growth may result from advances in medical
technology that could permit the treatment of more disabling conditions.
Widespread interest in health promotion also should increase
demand for physical therapy services. A growing number of employers
are using physical therapists to evaluate worksites, develop exercise
programs, and teach safe work habits to employees in the hope
of reducing injuries in the workplace.
Median annual earnings of physical therapists were $60,180 in
May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $50,330 and $71,760.
The lowest 10 percent earned less than $42,010, and the highest
10 percent earned more than $88,580. Median annual earnings in
the industries employing the largest numbers of physical therapists
in May 2004 were:
Home health care services
Nursing care facilities
Offices of physicians
General medical and surgical hospitals
Offices of other health practitioners
Physical therapists rehabilitate persons with physical disabilities.
Others who work in the rehabilitation field include audiologists,
chiropractors, occupational therapists, recreational therapists,
rehabilitation counselors, respiratory therapists, and speech-language
Sources of Additional Information
Additional career information and a list of accredited educational
programs in physical therapy are available from:
American Physical Therapy Association, 1111 North Fairfax
St., Alexandria, VA 22314-1488. Internet: http://www.apta.org/
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S.
Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook,