What Physical Therapists Do
Physical therapists help injured or ill people improve movement and manage pain.
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.
How to Become a Physical Therapist
Physical therapists entering the occupation need a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. All states require physical therapists to be licensed.
The median annual wage for physical therapists was $89,440 in May 2019.
Employment of physical therapists is projected to grow 18 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Demand for physical therapy is expected to come from aging baby boomers, who are not only staying active later in life but are susceptible to health conditions, such as strokes, that may require physical therapy. In addition, physical therapists will be needed to treat people with mobility issues stemming from chronic conditions, such as diabetes or obesity.
Physical therapists help injured or ill people improve movement and manage pain. They are often an important part of preventive care, rehabilitation, and treatment for patients with chronic conditions, illnesses, or injuries.
Physical therapists typically do the following:
- Review patients’ medical history and 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
- 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 patients’ progress, modifying the plan of care and trying new treatments as needed
- Educate patients and their families about what to expect from the recovery process and how to cope with challenges throughout the process
Physical therapists, sometimes called PTs, care for people of all ages who have functional problems resulting from back and neck injuries; sprains, strains, and fractures; arthritis; amputations; neurological disorders, such as stroke or cerebral palsy; injuries related to work and sports; and other conditions.
Physical therapists use a variety of techniques to care for their patients. These techniques include exercises; training in functional movement, which may include the use of equipment such as canes, crutches, wheelchairs, and walkers; and special movements of joints, muscles, and other soft tissue to improve mobility and decrease pain.
The work of physical therapists varies by type of patient. For example, a patient working to recover mobility lost after a stroke needs care different from that of a patient recovering from a sports injury. Some physical therapists specialize in one type of care, such as orthopedics or geriatrics. Many physical therapists also help patients maintain or improve mobility by developing fitness and wellness programs that encourage healthy, active lifestyles.
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 held about 258,200 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of physical therapists were as follows:
|Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists||33%|
|Hospitals; state, local, and private||26|
|Home healthcare services||11|
|Nursing and residential care facilities||6|
Physical therapists spend much of their time on their feet, working with patients. Because they must often lift and move patients, they are vulnerable to back injuries. Physical therapists can limit these risks by using proper body mechanics and lifting techniques when assisting patients.
Most physical therapists work full time, although part time work is common. They usually work during normal business hours, but some work evenings or weekends.
This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of physical therapists.
For more information about physical therapists, visit
For more information about accredited physical therapy programs, visit
For more information about state licensing requirements and about the National Physical Therapy Exam, visit
For more information about certification, visit
For more information about residency and fellowship opportunities, visit
For more information about how to apply to DPT programs, visit
For a career video on physical therapists, visit
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Physical Therapists,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapists.htm (visited ).