Pros / Demand for physical therapists will likely increase due to recent legislation.

Cons / Advancement in the profession requires additional education.

 Verdict / This is a great job for sports-minded individuals who enjoy helping people.

Editor’s Note: This career has been removed from viewing as part of this site because it has been included in the Advanced Careers in Medicine Review site. You can still read our original review below, but Top Ten Reviews is no longer updating this version of the review.

Physical therapists (PTs) play an important role in the rehabilitation of accident victims and patients with disabling conditions such as arthritis. Through the use of stretching and strengthening exercises, electrotherapy, traction, application of heat and ice, and other techniques, individuals in medical careers such as this can help improve patients' quality of life.

Physical therapists often work closely with a patient's doctor to identify the muscle systems affected by an injury or impairment. Different than a personal trainer, a physical therapist starts patients on a low-impact exercise routine using special exercise equipment and builds them up much more gradually, focusing mainly on the injured muscles.

They also work with insurance providers to develop an effective treatment plan within the parameters of a patient's coverage. Recently, some insurance restrictions have been lifted. Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia have eliminated the physician referral requirement, according to Medical News Today. Many patients whose insurance requires them to work with a primary care physician to get access to a specialist do not need to go through the same steps to see physical therapists anymore. As a result, the PT industry is expected to increase by one-third in the next 10 years.

Growth in the industry is also expected as a result of aging baby boomers. Physical therapists can help the elderly stay healthy and independent. They can also improve the quality of life of those with chronic health problems by teaching them how to exercise safely and effectively.

In addition, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 gives children with disabilities free access to physical therapy, as well as other kinds of rehabilitation services such as behavioral and occupational therapy.

Physical therapists generally have a doctoral-level education, although some masters level programs are available. Many start their careers as PT assistants, which gives them hands-on experience in the industry. PT assistants must have an associate's degree and a license to practice, and they must work under the direction of a physical therapist.


The average starting salary of physical therapists is $57,220, and their salary peaks at $105,900 annually. PT assistants earn an average of $34,735 at the beginning of their careers, and they can earn as much as $66,460 annually.

Since most physical therapists work in hospitals or medical clinics, they are often eligible for medical insurance and other benefits. However, many work part-time at one facility and part-time at another. Others run their own small facilities, and as a result, they may have limited access to health care.

Education and Opportunities

Presently, 185,500 jobs are filled in this profession, although a majority of those are part-time positions. 56,200 job openings are expected over the next 10 years. About one-third of jobs in this profession are in medical clinics and a quarter of them are located in hospitals.

Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Massachusetts have the highest concentration of physical therapists.

Workplace Opportunities

Your level of education and years in practice are generally methods used for advancement in this profession. Make sure that the school you attend is recognized by doctoral level programs available in this profession. Subjects of study in a degree program usually include anatomy, physiology, cellular histology, exercise physiology, neuroscience, biomechanics, pharmacology, pathology, radiology and behavioral science.

Most states require physical therapists to pass the National Physical Therapy Examination, and many require continuing education as a condition of license renewal. In 2010, the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) conducted an open discussion to establish re-licensing standards regarding continuing education. Because of frequent changes in the medical industry, continuing education is necessary in this profession.

"The skills, competencies and values for a successful lifetime of professional practice cannot be learned in a single educational encounter. Rather, the health professions must recapture the tradition of a continuing commitment to learning," an APTA report says. "This commitment must transcend passive, continuing professional education and move towards clear standards of continuing competence."

Work Environment
As mentioned above, individuals in this profession often work more than one job on a part-time basis. With a PT license, you are authorized to have your own practice and many individuals in this profession do this in addition to working at another medical clinic or hospital. Most clinics operate during the day and early evening. Some also offer some weekend appointments to accommodate patients' schedules.

You will work in a team environment with doctors, nurses, PT assistants, and other therapists such as occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, and you will work directly with patients.

Physical Requirements
The work of physical therapists is often physically demanding. You need to be able to lift 50 pounds or more, since you will often conduct facilitated stretching exercises, serve as a spotter as patients use specialized equipment or help them regain their balance.

Basic Office Skills Required
Basic spelling, grammar and punctuation skills, as well as typing, data entry and 10-key skills are needed in medical careers such as this, as you will communicate frequently with other medical professionals by email. In addition, you will often prepare customized instructions for patients with information about stretches they should do at home. Many individuals also write articles on PT subjects that are published in professional journals and sports-related consumer magazines. You need to have a handle on common office software such as MS Word, Excel and Outlook. You also need to have effective verbal communication and phone skills.

Since physical therapists often have the end goal in sight for each of their patients, they need to be able to plan ahead and meet deadlines.

Because of recent federal and state legislation, demand for physical therapists is expected to increase significantly over the next 10 years. They will also be needed to assist the growing number of elderly patients because of the aging baby boomers. Individuals in medical jobs like this provide physical rehabilitation to patients such as accident victims and those who are recovering from surgery. They also help to improve the quality of life to the elderly, who benefit greatly from regular, low-impact exercise.

In addition to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' website, we also used the World Confederation of Physical Therapy's website as a source.


A Physical Therapist's Typical Work Day

Annie is a physical therapist. She works part-time in a facility within a regional medical clinic. She also works part-time in another facility that she co-owns with two other physical therapists. At her own clinic, she gets a higher cut of the profits, but she also has the ability to establish signature programs for her patients. She has published articles in industry journals about her programs, which have given her status among other professionals in medical careers.

Annie's patients are usually referred to her by orthopedic surgeons or other doctors. Often a patient's insurance dictates how many sessions they can receive, so she designs programs around those parameters, although some patients are willing to pay out of pocket if she recommends additional sessions.

In her practice, she has combined western physical therapy principles with her knowledge of eastern medicine. In addition to being a licensed physical therapist, she is a certified reflexologist. She frequently does reflexology, a touch form of acupuncture applied to the feet when cooling her patients down after a session. The practice involves applying pressure to points on the feet which correspond with particular areas of the body.

In addition to reflexology, Annie's knowledge of eastern medicine has made her more perceptive regarding how the body is connected. She is able to identify the sources of pain her patients experience, which makes a big difference in which muscles she focuses on strengthening. For example, one of her recent patients complained of upper back and neck pain and also elbow and upper arm pain, but she observed that the connecting shoulder was not compromised at all. The patient had been over-using some of his smaller upper back muscles instead of using his larger shoulder blade muscles. He was also slouching and compromising for the neck and shoulder pain by applying more pressure to his upper arm. Annie gave him stretching exercises which helped train him to use his shoulder blade muscles more. His program also included traction to reduce tension and improve the alignment of his neck muscles. As a result, the pain in his neck and arm was quickly minimized.

At the regional medical clinic, Annie enjoys being able to work with more physical therapy assistants and interns. She knows much of their training must be in the form of a mentorship from someone like her. She has been pleased to see more individuals entering her profession in recent years. Demand for individuals in her profession has increased as a result of legislation that pays for physical therapists to work with children with disabilities. Doctors have also started encouraging the elderly to make appointments with her, as gentle stretches and exercises she can teach them help to strengthen their muscles, reduce chronic pain and improve their quality of living.

Annie enjoys being a physical therapist. In her schooling, she was required to complete a doctorate level program, and she is also required to renew her license periodically. She finds medical jobs like hers very rewarding. Through her work, she is able to make a real difference in her patients' lives.