What is a Physical Therapist

Physical therapists (also known as Physiotherapist, Cardiopulmonary Physical Therapist, Orthopedic Physical Therapist, Pulmonary Physical Therapist, Sports Physical Therapist or simply PT) are health care specialists who evaluate and treat injuries and disease of the human body through exercise activities to alleviate pain and improve body functions. By assessing the patients’ physical capabilities, they forge an individualized therapy program with realistically set goals to assist these individuals to restore function and gain mobility, therefore enhancing the rehabilitation process. For more on job description, please visit our physical therapist job description page.

Where do Physical Therapists Work

Most physical therapists work in hospitals and office of health practitioners, 28% and 37% respectively. The rest of physical therapists work in home health care services, nursing facilities, outpatient care centers, and some are self-employed in private practices where they see individual patients or provide contract services to hospitals.

Work Schedule

Physical therapists work typical full time hours. They will also be expected to work evenings and weekends as most clinics are open during those times.

How Much Do Physical Therapists Make?

In the United States, the average annual physical therapist salary is $82,180. Bottom 10% of this occupation makes less than $56,280 per year and the top 10% reaches more than $113,340 annually.

Physical Therapist Salary: Quick Summary

2013 Mean Salary$82,180 per year
$39.51 per hour
Top 10% Salary$113,340 per year
$54.49 per hour
Bottom 10% Salary$56,280 per year
$27.06 per hour
Number of Jobs, 2013195,670

Job Outlook and Prospects

As people age, they can develop diseases such as heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, arthritis, and mobility-related injuries that require physical therapy for rehabilitation. Other factors, such as an increase in sports-related injuries, accidents, and incidences of violence, may also contribute to an increase in employment opportunities. The demand for physiotherapy will continue to rise in the upcoming years. Employment is expected to increase by 36%, or 73,500 jobs by 2022, which ranks this occupation as the fastest growing healthcare profession. In fact, it currently sits at No. 20 on the list of professions with the highest growth rates in the U.S. for the next decade.

One of the main factors spurring growth in physical therapist employment opportunities is the increasing elderly population. At the same time, the United States is seeing a growing trend in the number of young children requiring physical therapy services, which is due to advancements in medical technology that allows newborns with life-threatening birth defects to live. The scope of a physical therapist continues to expand as technological advances provide them with innovative treatments and the development of new drugs that increases life expectancy.

Physical Therapist Salary: Factors of Influence

According to the May 2013 figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are currently 195,670 individuals throughout the country employed as physical therapists, earning a mean annual wage of $82,180. Of course, there is great deviation on the yearly salary of physical therapists due to a wide variety of factors.


Not surprisingly, experience results in some of the largest variations in wages for physical therapists. Those that are just beginning may start at an annual salary of approximately $60,000. However, as of March 2013, those in the top percentiles of the field are earning slightly over $100,000, which is almost twice as much as those in the lowest percentiles. Many of these top earners are generally enrolled in the following specialties such as pediatrics, sports, women’s health, cardiovascular and pulmonary, geriatrics, and neurology, among others.


Like many other professionals, salary fluctuations are due in great part to the quantity of individuals employed in various industries. For example, approximately one-third of all physical therapists work in the offices of other health practitioners, none of which are close to the top earners in the field. The highest-earning industries for physical therapists are those that are more sparsely populated, including home health care services, management, scientific, and technical consulting services, and employment services.


Top paying states are located throughout the United States, representing anywhere from under 1,000 physical therapists to almost 20,000 in other top five highest-earning states. Most of these states with the highest wages are also among those that don’t employ as many physical therapists as others, placing these professionals in higher demand. This doesn’t necessarily correlate with state size either, giving physical therapists a wide array of options in terms of places to live when they are seeking employment.

Many of the top paying metropolitan areas for physical therapists are located within the highest paying states. This correlation is also related to the quantity of physical therapists within a city as well. For example, many areas of Texas don’t have a large number of physical therapists and yet, five of the top ten highest paying metropolitan areas are within Texas. Small nonmetropolitan areas also bring rank highest in terms of annual mean wages, as towns with extremely limited amounts of employed physical therapists are those that also pay these professionals the most.