Physical Therapist

Physical Therapists (PTs) provide services that help restore function, improve mobility, relieve pain, and prevent or limit permanent physical disabilities of patients with injuries or disease.


Sample of Reported Job Titles

Physical Therapist (PT), Staff Physical Therapist, Home Care Physical Therapist, Outpatient Physical Therapist, Pediatric Physical Therapist, Registered Physical Therapist (RPT), Rehabilitation Services Director



Physical therapists typically do the following:

  • Diagnose patients’ dysfunctional movements by watching them stand or walk and by listening to their concerns, among other methods
  • Set up a plan for their patients, outlining the patient's goals and the planned treatments
  • Use exercises, stretching maneuvers, hands-on therapy, and equipment to ease patients’ pain and to help  them increase their ability to move
  • Evaluate a patient’s progress, modifying a treatment plan and trying new treatments as needed
  • Educate patients and their families about what to expect during recovery from injury and illness and how best to cope with what happens

Physical therapists provide care to people of all ages who have functional problems resulting from back and neck injuries; sprains, strains, and fractures; arthritis; amputations; stroke; birth conditions, such as cerebral palsy; injuries related to work and sports; and other conditions.

Physical therapists are trained to use a variety of different techniques—sometimes called modalities—to care for their patients. These techniques include applying heat and cold, hands-on stimulation or massage, and using assistive and adaptive devices and equipment.

The work of physical therapists varies with the type of patients they serve. For example, a patient suffering from loss of mobility due to Parkinson’s disease needs different care than an athlete recovering from an injury. Some physical therapists specialize in one type of care, such as pediatrics (treating children) or sports physical therapy. Physical therapists work as part of a healthcare team, overseeing the work of physical therapist assistants and aides and consulting with physicians and surgeons and other specialists. Physical therapists also work at preventing loss of mobility by developing fitness- and wellness-oriented programs to encourage healthier and more active lifestyles.


Educational Requirements

At a minimum, you'll need a master's degree and a state license to become a practicing therapist. Many students currently pursue a doctor of physical therapy degree (DPT), and new graduates taking the national licensure examination in the field after 2017 will be required to hold such a degree. Most doctoral programs take three years, compared with two or two and a half for a master's. Many licenses also require continuing education in order to stay certified.

Most programs, either DPT or MPT, require a bachelor’s degree for admission, and many require specific prerequisites, such as anatomy, physiology, biology, and chemistry.    

Physical therapy programs often include courses in biomechanics, anatomy, physiology, neuroscience, and pharmacology. Physical therapy students also complete clinical rotations, enabling them to gain supervised work experience in areas such as acute care and orthopedic care.


Median Salary 2012



Want to know more?

O*NET-Physical Therapists

PowerPoint Presentation: Move Toward a Physical Therapist Career

Bureau of Labor Statistics-Physical Therapist

American Physical Therapy Association


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Physical Therapist LinkedIn Networking Group

Physical and Occupational Therapy Forum on LinkedIn

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