Physical therapy careers and salaries

Careers in physical therapy

Physical therapy (PT) is the practice of helping people improve their quality of life by optimizing their ability to move. While there are several types of physical therapy jobs — including physical therapist assistant and physical therapy aide — a physical therapist is someone who has earned a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. While a number of physical therapists work in hospitals, many establish careers in other settings including outpatient clinics and offices, schools, rehabilitation facilities, nursing facilities, and more, according to information from the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).

The sponsored program cards featured on this page were last updated in March 2022. For the most current program information, please refer to the official website of the respective school.

The Hybrid DPT Program From USC — Bachelor’s Req’d

With USC’s Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy, aspiring physical therapists can earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree in an innovative hybrid format. Bachelor’s required.

  • Full-time, three-year program 
  • 44 weeks of rich, varied clinical experiences 
  • Regular visits to USC for on-campus, skill-building immersions


Learn from Arcadia’s expert DPT faculty in an online program. Complete in 25 months.

Earn your DPT from a hybrid program. Experience on-campus immersions and apply skills learned online to patients in person. Complete the program in 25 months. Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree but do not need to submit GRE test scores for admission.

  • Accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) 
  • Complete in 25 months  
  • 32 weeks of in-person experience


Physical therapist jobs

Physical therapists examine patients and develop a plan of treatment encompassing techniques to improve movement, reduce or eliminate pain, restore function, and prevent disability. Though physical therapy is often associated with the treatment and recovery phase of patient care, DPT-trained professionals independently diagnose and treat movement difficulties.

Primary physical therapist responsibilities include:

  • Examining patients to establish diagnoses, prognoses, and plans of care.
  • Providing necessary interventions for patient care.
  • Re-examining patients and modifying care plans as needed.
  • Developing and implementing discharge plans.

Working closely with their patients, physical therapists provide treatment through exercise, traction, patient and family education, and other modalities. This is why the role of a physical therapist demands the highest level of education compared to other physical therapy positions — typically three years of postgraduate study.

Physical therapist assistant jobs

A physical therapist assistant maintains their own license but works under the direction and supervision of a physical therapist. Because they do not diagnose or create treatment plans of their own, physical therapist assistants tend to have fewer responsibilities than physical therapists. They implement certain aspects of patient treatment, obtain data related to treatments, and modify treatment as directed by the supervising physical therapist. Physical therapy assistants may perform the following duties

  • Teaching and assisting patients in exercises that improve mobility, strength, and coordination
  • Training patients in using crutches, canes, or walkers properly
  • Administering massage or electrotherapy

To become a physical therapist assistant, you need to complete a degree program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) and pass a national licensing exam.

Physical therapy aide jobs

Physical therapy aides report to the supervising physical therapist as well as any collaborating physical therapy assistants. Among PT professionals, physical therapy aides have the least amount of responsibility. Physical therapy aides typically perform tasks that are indirectly related to patient care, such as:

  • Cleaning treatment areas and linens
  • Setting up therapy equipment
  • Helping patients move to or from a therapy area
  • Preparing patient transport
  • Answering phones, scheduling patients, and other clerical tasks
  • Assisting with gait training

Employers typically prefer physical therapy aides to have earned a high school diploma or GED, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). There is a physical therapy technician/aide certification available through the American Medical Certification Association, but this is not mandatory for most physical therapy aide positions.

Three major requirements to be a physical therapist, PT assistant, or PT aide

While physical therapists, physical therapist assistants, and physical therapist aides vary in their responsibilities, salary, and required education, they do have some overlapping job requirements.

1. Basic and transferable workplace skills

Basic skills for physical therapists and related careers include:

  • Active listening: Physical therapists, assistants, and aides need to gather information from patients while allowing them to feel seen and heard.
  • Critical thinking: Patients may present complex symptoms or unpredictable responses to treatment, and physical therapists must look for patterns and processes in order to diagnose and treat effectively.
  • Empathy and compassion: Positive “bedside manner” is essential as physical therapist professionals guide and support patients through recovery.
  • Physical fitness: Physical therapy is an active career where you may be on your feet most of the day. You may need to help support patients as they move or lift and manipulate medical equipment. 

Some physical therapy skills, like the ones listed below, can transfer to various job environments.

  • Giving healthcare instruction
  • Planning and implementing treatment plans
  • Operating medical equipment
  • Using tablets, laptops, and other devices
  • Complying with HIPAA and other healthcare privacy regulations

2.  A degree from a CAPTE-accredited program

The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education ensures the quality of physical therapy education programs throughout the country. But how much education does a physical therapist need? There is some variation between programs, but most CAPTE-accredited Doctor of Physical Therapy graduate programs are three years long and require a bachelor’s degree for admission, according to information from the American Physical Therapy Association

DPT degree holders may complete optional residencies and fellowships to further their education. Physical therapists can also pursue specialty certification in fields like geriatrics, orthopedics, pediatrics, and others through the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties. Physical therapy assistants must obtain a two-year associate degree from a CAPTE-accredited physical therapy education program. Many physical therapy aides earn a high school diploma or GED, and can benefit from having the basic and transferable skills listed above.

3. A physical therapy license in your state

Every physical therapy graduate must pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) in order to obtain the appropriate state license or certification. Physical therapists and physical therapy assistants are licensed in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. State regulatory boards manage licensure for each state and specific licensure requirements vary according to each state’s physical therapy practice act, but all require a minimum score of 600 on the NPTE. Physical therapy aides do not require any special certification.

Physical therapist salary

Physical therapist salaries vary depending on education level, years of experience, work environment, and location, among other factors. The median annual wage for physical therapists was $97,720 in May 2022, according to the BLS.

Entry-level PT salary

The lowest 10% of physical therapists earned a median annual wage of less than $67,910 in May 2022, compared to the lowest 10% of physical therapist assistants and aides who earned less than $22,380

Physical therapy job market outlook

Physical therapy is a rapidly growing field, especially with the aging U.S. population requiring increased healthcare services. There were about 246,800 practicing physical therapists in 2022, and the BLS projects a 15% increase in physical therapist employment from 2022-2032, compared to an average growth rate of 3% across all professions. The BLS projects a 19% increase in employment for physical therapy assistants and aides through 2032.     

Five top-paying states for physical therapists

Find below the states with the highest annual mean wages for physical therapists as of May 2022:

  1. California – $114,230     
  2. Nevada – $105,880      
  3. New Jersey – $105,430  
  4. Alaska – $104,470      
  5. Connecticut – $103,920

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2022; 29-1123 Physical Therapists

Physical therapist salary by state

StatePhysical therapist (mean annual wage, May 2022)Physical therapist assistant
(mean annual wage, May 2022)
Physical therapy aide
(mean annual wage, May 2022)
District of Columbia
Not available
Not available
Not available
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Puerto Rico
Not available
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
Not available
Virgin Islands
Not available
Not available
West Virginia

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2022

Last updated December 2023